COLIN RENTON @ Goldenacre
HERIOT’S left it late but ultimately posted a victory that ensures they remain in the shake up for a top four finish. For Ayr, the narrow defeat bonus-point they garnered for their efforts could yet prove crucial in the final analysis as they pursue a home semi-final.
With so much at stake for both sides, and a wind that played havoc with any notion of running rugby, this was a game where the result was more important than the manner in which it was achieved. It wasn’t the prettiest of spectacles, but it was fiercely contested and the outcome hung in the balance until the final whistle.
The visitors had the better of the early possession without threatening the Heriot’s line and it was the hosts who almost opened the scoring with eight minutes gone when a looping pass found Charlie Simpson in space. He was closed down and Liam Steele was adjudged to have been held up when he dived over, with the ensuing recycled ball. From the scrum, Jack Turley crashed over the whitewash although the referee again deemed that an Ayr body had also held him out. The scrum this time ended with Ayr offending and Ross Jones slotted the close-range kick to open the scoring
The wind was of no real benefit to either side but the blustery conditions ensured a high error count, both with the boot and with attempts to keep the ball in hand. One gust put paid to Ayr’s attempt to open their account, with a lineout going awry 10 metres from the Heriot’s line.
The momentum was with the visitors and with 23 minutes played they squared matters when Scott Lyle banged over a penalty award that had been advanced to within kicking range following some Heriot’s backchat.
From the next attack, the home side earned another penalty that allowed Jones to restore a three point gap.
A break from deep by Matt Davidson, continued by Lewis Anderson earned another penalty for Ayr, which was booted into touch – but again Callum Marshall stole possession at the lineout. A lack of discipline on both sides meant the referee was the central character as the first half stuttered to a close.
The visitors wasted another lineout opportunity before turning over possession within sight of the target, and Jones turned it into three points.
There was more action in the first minute of the second half than there had been in all of the first as Davidson broke out for Ayr before Elliot Miilar Mills charged at the away defence to create an opportunity that ended with Marshall just failing to hold a pass from the tackle by Steele.
Steele then almost made the breakthrough with a solo effort as the game again sparked into life with half an hour to play.
Despite the pace having ticked up several notches, a try remained elusive and the hosts reverted to the boot in an effort to boost their points haul. However, Jones was well short with an ambitious 40metre penalty attempt.
The home supporters thought their team had finally broken down the Ayr defence when Iain Wilson picked up at the breakdown just inside opposition territory and raced clear, bit Craig Gossman sprinted back to nab the flanker and his pass inside to Turley went forward, nullifying the home captain’s touchdown.
The momentum was firmly with Heriot’s at this stage but Ayr’s defence remained watertight and the score was unchanged entering the final quarter.
Having soaked up all that their opponents could throw at them, Ayr launched a fresh offensive and from a close-range scrum they found a way through when Lyle threw out a long ball to Gossman who darted in at the corner. Lyle thumped over the touchline conversion.
Steven Longwell was next on the attack with a thundering run that carried play deep into the home 22. The pressure was maintained with another penalty kicked into touch, but a misfired lineout meant that Heriot’s again pirated possession.
With their season hanging by a thread, the hosts mounted a desperate finale. A penalty sent into touch five metres out provided a platform for a driving maul that splintered the Ayr defence, and when it was halted illegally, the referee ran round behind the posts to signal a penalty try.
Ayr launched one final desperate effort but that foundered on a penalty at the breakdown inside the home 22, allowing Heriot’s to see out the game for a vital victory.
There was delight in the Heriots ranks, epitomised by coach Phil Smith, who said: “I felt we were deserving winners although we left it late.”
“These are the games that – this season – we haven’t won and our composure has gone,” he added. “I thought the forwards were outstanding. It was then a case of the backs, because of the conditions, maintaining a bit of composure and field position.”
Smith’s Ayr counterpart Callum Forrester had no problem identifying the source of his team’s downfall.
“To have as many opportunities as we did in the first half when we got to their 22 and just weren’t accurate enough when we had our own set-piece ball… A few decisions went against us in those areas but there were too many of our own lineouts that we didn’t win,” he lamented.
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, L Steele, R Mulveena, R Kay; S Edwards, T Wilson; E Millar-Mills, M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, A Sinclair, I Wilson, J McLean, J Turley. Subs used: A Johnstone, M Bouab, R Carmichael, C Robertson.
Ayr: G Anderson; M Davidson, D McCluskey, F Climo, C Gossman; S Lyle, D Armstrong; R Hislop, L Anderson, S Longwell, B Macpherson, S Sutherland, T Spinks, G Stokes, P McCallum. Subs used: R Sayce, G Hunter, J Agnew, J Bova, M Badenhorst.
Heriot’s: Try: Penalty; Pens: Jones 2.
Ayr: Try: Gossman; Con: Lyle; Pen: Lyle.
Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 3-0; 3-3; 6-3 (h-t) 6-8 6-10; 13-10
Yellow cards –
Referee: Leuen Davies
Man-of-the-Match Lewis Anderson and Steven Longwell stood out for Ayr, while Jack Turley was typically outstanding for Heriot’s. But the player who earned the accolade was all-action flanker Iain Wilson, who confirmed that he is back to his best after a long-term injury absence with an impressive contribution.
Talking point: Heriot’s were within a couple of minutes of seeing their season ended. However, a gutsy win means that they are back in the play-off race and an engrossing run into the regular league programme is guaranteed.