Glasgow Hawks 31
DAVID BARNES @ Lochinch
FOR the best part of an hour of this match, Ayr performed pretty close to their imperious best. There was an early blip when Hawks captain Brendan McGroarty latched on to a loose pop pass from Danny McCluskey and galloped home from 50 metres, but the visitors bounced back immediately and spent the remainder of the first half building an unassailable lead with a relentless demonstration of controlled brutality.
McCluskey made amends for his earlier error by cutting a great line to rip a huge hole in Hawks’ stretched defence for the first of his team’s six tries, Craig Gossman ran a diagonal line then worked a scissors to send Grant Anderson over, Blair Macpherson barged in for score number three after a great Hamish Watson-esque steel at a maul from George Stokes, and the bonus point was secured with five minutes of the first half still to play when a fractured line-out drive left Hawks defending the wrong pod and Pete McCallum capitalised.
With Scott Lyle kicking three conversions and two penalties, Ayr were 5-32 ahead at the break, and when tight-head prop Steven Longwell charged in for try number five after several fast, powerful phases within two minutes of the restart, it looked like a cricket score might be on the cards.
That it didn’t quite pan out that way was partly due to Ayr’s propensity to take their foot off the gas in games, but also related to some impressive fighting spirit exhibited by Hawks. A scrum penalty for the home team clearly provided a much-needed shot of adrenalin and McGroarty powered in for his and his team’s second try a few minutes later.
McCallum struck back for Ayr but Hawks kept going, and Scott Peffers’ soft hands put McGroarty in for his hat-trick. Then a sweeping attack up the left touchline, involving Paddy Boyer and McGroarty, was finished off by James Couper.
That score meant that the home side were at least going to emerge from this contest with a four-try bonus point – but they had their sights set on more than that.
While they were never really in contention to win it, when Couper scrambled in for his second try of the match, another bonus point – this time for finishing within seven points of their opponents – was on the cards.
A penalty kicked to the corner made that a very real possibility, but, unfortunately for Hawks, the line-out was overthrown and the opportunity lost.
“The first hour was some of the best attacking rugby we’ve played this season, and fair play to the boys because if you look at what we’ve played on in the last two outings (in a mud bath at Millbrae), to come here and be able to move the ball about today, was a credit to them,” said Ayr head coach Calum Forrester.
“But we can’t afford to switch off like we did there in the last 20 minutes if we are going to go to Melrose and do the job next week. We need to take that first 60 minutes and do it for whole bang, or we’ll come up second best.”
In mitigation, Forrester did point out that he had given a couple of youngsters in prop Ruairidh Sayce and winger Sam Graham some valuable game time during the final quarter. “Before they came on to the pitch there they had probably played a total of half an hour of 1st XV rugby between them, so it was great experience for them,” he surmised.
Meanwhile, Hawks coach Fin Gillies was clearly disappointed but encouraged by the of his fortitude of his players.
“It was disappointing in the first half because I think we’re better than that, but I said to the boys that it wasn’t a lack of effort,” he said. “That’s a decent Ayr team, and the first half was perhaps the best they’ve played all season. I don’t want people to devalue what we did in the second half by saying the game is dead and buried because we got our just rewards – we’d worked hard enough to get a foot in the door.”
Glasgow Hawks: B Beattie; K Rowe, B McGroarty, P Kelly, J Couper; L Brims, P Boyer; S Findlay, G Stewart, L Skinner, A Kirkland, F Hastie, S Leckey, C Kerr, J Eaglesham. Subs: P Cairncross, G Strain, A Linton, J Steele, S Peffers.
Ayr: G Anderson; S Lyle, D McCluskey, S McDowall, C Gossman; B Thomson, L Young; R Hislop, R Smith, S Longwell, B Macpherson, R McAlpine, T Spinks, G Stokes, P McCallum. Subs: L Anderson, R Sayce, J Agnew, J Bova, S Graham.
Hawks: Tries: McGroarty 3, Couper 2; Cons: Steele, Peffers Brims.
Ayr: Tries: McLuskey, Anderson, Macpherson, McCallum 2, Longwell; Cons: Lyle 4; Pen: Lyle 2.
Scoring sequence (Hawks first): 5-0; 5-5; 5-7; 5-10; 5-15; 5-17; 5-22; 5-24; 5-29; 5-32 (h-t) 5-37; 5-39; 10-39; 12-39; 12-44; 17-44; 22-44; 24-44; 29-44; 31-44.
Referee: Ben Blaine
Man-of-the-Match: You could have had your pick of any Ayr forward during a dominant first half but Blair Macpherson gets the nod for all round excellence playing in the second-row as opposed to his preferred blindside flanker slot. An honourable mention is due to Brendan McGroarty, who scored three tries for Hawks.
Talking point: If Ayr can play for the full 80 minutes at the Greenyards next weekend like they did during the first half of this game then they might just be the team to topple the runaway league leaders – but that is a very big ‘if’.