Head coach: Calum Forrester
Current league position: 3rd
The story so far:
They finished last regular season as runners-up in the league but then defeated Melrose in a tense play-off Grand Final to become Scottish club champions. It looks like Ayr will have to follow a similar route this year if they are to win back-to-back Premiership titles because with three losses from 10 games so far, the Millbrae men are already 18 points adrift of Melrose at the summit of the table.
The season started badly by their own high standards. After scraping a win at Boroughmuir, they were well beaten in their next two games, both at home, against Glasgow Hawks and Melrose – and although they have since scrambled back up the league ladder, it is hard to escape the feeling that they have lost some of their air of superiority.
Discipline lapses are not helping. They, along with Boroughmuir, have picked up more yellow cards than any other team in the league. Interestingly, they did not receive that sanction once in any of their first three matches, but have seen yellow 11 times in their next seven matches, which means they have effectively been playing almost 16 minutes per match with just 14 men since 23rd September.
Coach’s comments –
Rate your season so far:
I said at the start of the season that there wasn’t that many changes in the squad, but in hindsight I maybe under-estimated the influence of a couple of the boys who had left, and particularly their chat on the pitch when you need that extra experience to get through a tough spell.
I hadn’t really appreciated how much emphasis we were putting on guys like Stafford McDowall and Robbie Smith, who were part of our squad last year but didn’t actually get that much pitch time. They have both been excellent for us when they have been available, but they are still making their way in the game.
We’ve also had influential players like Steven Longwell, Scott Sutherland, Tommy Spinks and David Armstrong missing at various times, and that’s made life tougher than it might have been.
The really disappointing thing for us has been some of our home form this season – to be only three from six at Millbrae is not what we expect of ourselves.
But we’ve shown that we have the ability to grind out wins and that’s why we are still up there in the mix.
Rate your coaching so far:
If I’m being honest, perhaps we weren’t as clear about how we wanted to play in the first few weeks as we needed to be, so there has been a big drive to increase that clarity as the season has worn on – and I think we are getting there.
Most important player:
Stafford McDowall gives us direction in the backline. In the pack, Tommy Spinks has been outstanding in a really strong back-row – he brings a different sort of work-rate to what we’ve got. So, those two have been key men for us, week-in and week-out.
Most improved player:
It is shame because Robbie Smith has been injured for so long now, but in the first three or four games of the season he was absolutely outstanding, so we’re really looking forward to getting him back from a knee injury after the break.
Somebody who has done really well since the start of the season, who didn’t play very much last year, is Harry Warr. He’s taken over the number nine jersey from David Armstrong, who has been one of the first names on our team-sheet during the last couple of seasons, and really stepped up to the mark.
Scott Lyle arrived during the summer and he has been invaluable in terms of the points he has scored. Saturday was his first game in his preferred position – he has played almost every other position in the back-line for us this year apart from stand-off – so it was good to see him get a run there and play well. He is only 21 – so another player we are asking a lot of.
Supporting Ayr RFC
Best performance by your team:
Home to Heriot’s in Round 7. We’d had a couple of hiccups, dragged out a tough win at Marr, and then back on a bigger pitch that was our first real 80-minute performance – and our only one so far.
Watsonians came to Millbrae [in Round 9] and played really well, so I’m not taking anything away from them – but the nature of our second-half performance was not good enough. Teams feared coming to Millbrae in the past but they turned up and essentially bullied us the way we look to bully the opposition – which was tough to take.
What I will say is that the reaction we got out of the boys on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, leading into the Boroughmuir match at the weekend, is full testament to the character of the squad.
The nature of the day against Watsonians meant that they deservedly came out well on top, but Melrose have shown that they are the team to beat in terms of the consistency of their performance.
They have pushed the standard of the league up to a new level again this year. They had that continuity from last year to this year in terms of their squad staying more or less the same, with a couple of young guys a bit more experienced, so they’ve really been building towards this for a couple of seasons now.
Realistic aim for the second half of the season:
December is going to be crucial for us. We play Hawks, Melrose and Currie – so that’s going to set the tone in terms of the battle to make the top four. I think it’s safe to say that Melrose have got that top spot tied-up, but we’re really striving to get the other home semi-final.