DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh
THE visitors got what they came for in the end, but with twenty minutes to go they were trailing by four points and struggling to get any sort of grip on the game.
Stirling, however, have had a habit this season of running out of steam towards the end of close encounters, and with their game against Melrose last week frozen off there was always a danger that a lack of match fitness would prove costly.
Three late tries clinched the win and the bonus point for Ayr, meaning that their coach, Calum Forrester, cut a rather more relaxed figure at the final whistle than he had done around about the hour mark.
“What we said at half-time was accuracy was going to be the key. We were kicking the ball dead, we were getting line-outs and tapping ball down at the scrum-half and when we got down to their 22 we gave away a couple of turnovers – so we weren’t allowing ourselves to get into the game, and Stirling deservedly took the lead,” he reflected.
“But then we had a couple of really good defensive sets, really dug deep, and scoring that second try seemed to be the moment we switched on.”
“This is tough place to come, it has been tight when we have come here the last couple of years – so we’re delighted get away with a bonus point because there was a point when we were battling to get away with any sort of win.”
“Will Bordill was outstanding. His tackle count was in double figures in the first twenty minutes, and young Stafford McDowell hit some really good lines when he came on at centre, which I would say that was the momentum changer.”
Poor David Adamson looked like he had found a penny but lost a pound – which, in coaching terms, he probably had. His side competed well for most of this match against one of the top teams in the league, and there was a lot of good things about this performance – not least the way his young pack fronted up – but in the end they came away with nothing. A losing bonus point was the least they deserved.
“It was our first game in five weeks. We had trained really well and we were looking forward to getting back into it, but in those last 20 minutes we were just really fatigued, and from playing pretty well in parts we gave away two sloppy scores at the end,” said the Stirling coach.
“We really targeted this game because we played very well against them down there with a weakened side, so we were confident – but Ayr are a big, powerful team and you’ve got to make your tackles against them.”
Stirling gifted Ayr the first score when they tried to move the ball left and Frazier Climo read it for the interception. The stand-off did not have the legs to make it home himself, but Danny McCluskey was on hand to complete 45-yard unchallenged dart to the line. Climo slotted the conversion and fifteen uneventful minutes later he added a penalty.
Both sides did plenty of huffing and puffing during the first half, but it was hard to envisage either of them blowing even the flimsiest of straw houses down – until the game finally burst into life just four minutes before the break when home stand-off Ross Jones’s devilishly flat pass put number eight Ruairidh Leishman through a gap on the halfway line.
With Sean MacDonald providing support, play rampaged up to the Ayr 22, and when quick ruck ball was fired out to Ross at first receiver, the Welshmen weighed up his options before sending a perfectly weighted kick into the corner for Logan Trotter to sprint onto and score.
Stirling started the second half as they ended the first and they grabbed the lead through a try for replacement flanker Andrew Grant-Suttie, which owed its genesis to a monstrous hit by Craig Pringle on Archie Russell in midfield. After telling contributions from Fergus Bradbury, Logan Trotter and Hamilton Burr (amongst others), it was Corey Flynn – the Glasgow Warriors professional and former New Zealand 2011 World Cup winner – who got the assist.
Ayr were on the ropes, but like a grizzled veteran of the ring they knew what they needed to do to get back on top. There was no panic, just a grim determination to establish field position and get a stranglehold on possession.
George Hunter bulldozed over under the shadow of the posts after several uncompromising drives to get the visitors’ noses back in front, which was a blow Stirling could not recover from. They had punched themselves out, and with more and more men being sucked in to resist Ayr’s rampant pack, huge gaps started opening up out on the left touchline for Richard Dalgleish and then Grant Anderson to score.
Stirling: J Hope (c); S MacDonald, C Pringle, A Black, L Trotter; R Jones, M Donaldson; F Bradbury, C Flynn, A Nicol, H Burr, A Sinclair, A Taylor, M Emmison, R Leishman. Subs: D Westwood, M Hunter, A Grant-Suttie.
Ayr: G Anderson; J Bova, A Russell, D McCluskey, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, L Anderson, S Longwell, R McApline, S Sutherland, B MacPherson, W Bordill, P McCallum (c). Subs: R Smith A Prentice, C Stevenson, R Dalgliesh, S McDowall.
Referee: G Wells
Stirling: Try: Trotter, Grant-Suttie; Con: Hope 2.
Ayr: Try: McCluskey, Hunter, Dalgleish, Anderson; Con: Climo 3; Pen: Climo.
Scoring Sequence (Stirling first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10 (h-t) 12-10; 14-10; 14-15; 14-17; 14-22; 14-27; 14-29.
Man-of-the-Match: On a day when things didn’t quite click for Ayr until the final quarter, Will Bordill tackled like a man possessed and scavenged
Talking Point: Stirling had two teenagers in Adam Nicol and Fergus Bradbury at prop and the home side bossed the scrum. It will be interesting to see if Stirling are able to hold onto this pair (who are both in the Scotland Under-20 squad for the Six Nations) – or whether the SRU have plans to hot-house them elsewhere.
Image courtesy: Scottish Rugby/SNS Group