DAVID BARNES @ Millbrae
THE right result but more importantly for both teams this was as rigorous a test of their readiness for the commencement of league activity in seven days’ time as they could hope to arrange. As both coaches acknowledged afterwards, the concession of so many points tells us that neither side are at their fighting best yet – but they are both much further down the road than they were before kick-off.
The visitors ruthlessly exploited the one man advantage they were given when home stand-off Frazier Climo was yellow-carded for preventing a clear try scoring opportunity with a deliberate knock-on midway through the first half, grabbing three quick-fire tries to take the score from 10-13 to 10-32 by the time the New Zealander had returned to the fray.
That was a key period in the game, but it wasn’t the only reason Melrose came out on top – overall they were just slightly sharper in attack.
“I’m pretty happy with how it went. There are always things to work on, but it was a good test – just what we needed – and I’m pretty pleased with how some of the young guys like Gavin Wood and Patrick Anderson stepped up, which shows there is real competition for places at the moment,” said Melrose coach Rob Chrystie.
Opposite number Calum Forrester was fairly sanguine in defeat. “There was a lot of positives but we just need to get into match mode slightly quicker than we managed out there,” he said. “You want to be finishing your pre-season with your hardest game and we’ve traditionally gone down south for that but we know Melrose will be up there again come April so it is good to go out there and get that marker.”
“A couple of bright spots were our front-row: Robbie Smith is a hooker and still a teenager, but he showed that he can do a bloody good job filling in at prop; and Adam Prentice also did well. I was also pleased to see another of our youngsters, Paddy Dewhirst, inject a bit of pace when he came on.”
Melrose took an early lead with Richard Ferguson rumbling over from close range after a period of pressure; Ayr retorted in kind almost immediately with an Adam Prentice try from similar range; and whereas Ben Chalmers had missed his conversion attempt a few moments earlier, Climo was on target this time to edge the home team into a narrow lead.
Ayr new boy Tommy Spinks slipped round the side of a ruck and kicked the ball away before it was out and this time Chalmers had no problem slotting the kick; but once again Ayr bounced right back, with Climo helping himself to three points after a Melrose offside.
It was a glorious Autumn day on the west coast and both sides showed an admirable desire to take advantage of the near perfect handling conditions, but it was when they tucked the ball up their jumper that they were accruing real benefit during this opening quarter. Visiting tight-head Nick Beavon was next on the score-sheet when grounding the ball at the conclusion of a powerful line-out drive.
This time Melrose built on the momentum of that score. Climo saw yellow and conceded a penalty try for that deliberate knock-on when Fraser Thomson was trying to exploit an overlap on the right; then Murdo McAndrew’s box-kick found nobody at home and Ross McCann hacked ahead before outpacing Grant Anderson to score under the posts; and the third try in ten minutes was secured when slick hands found Wood on the right and his exquisite pop off the deck sent Thomson over.
With Climo back, Ayr managed to stem the tide, and after Ferguson had been sent to the cooler for killing the ball at a ruck near his own line, Rob McAlpine barged over under the shadow of the posts to cut the deficit to 15 points on the stroke of half-time.
That gap was reduced again to eight points after 15 minutes of the second-half when Blair Macpherson grounded, after his team had demonstrated that they can also drive a pretty mean line-out.
It looked like Ayr were beginning to build up a fair old head of steam, but Melrose took the sting out of this mini-revival when Sam Pecqeuer scuttled over after Iain Moody had managed to dislodge the ball from Scott Lyle’s grip as they competed for a Baggott cross-kick.
Macpherson grabbed his second for Ayr before Melrose killed the game off definitively with the try of the afternoon. The talismanic Thomson launched the score with a trademark counter from deep, Pecqueur carried it on with pace and purpose, Neil Irvine-Hess was pulled down just short, and a quick recycle allowed McCann to power home to set up an easy conversion for Baggott.
Ayr: G Anderson (J Bova 56); J Bova (C Gossman 40), D McCluskey, S Lyle, C Gossman (P Dewhirst 26); F Climo, D Armstrong (H Warr 70); R Smith (A Prentice 66), L Anderson (D Young 66), A Prentice (G Hunter 40), R McAlpine (J Agnew 26-36, T Spinks 62), S Sutherland (J Agnew 40), B Macpherson, T Spinks (G Stokes 40, R McAlpine 67), P McCallum©.
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, G Wood (P Anderson 56), S Pecqueur (R McLeod 39); B Chalmers (J Baggott 40), M McAndrew (B Colvine 40); G Shiels (N Beavon 56), R Ferguson, N Beavon (C Howard 44-46), A Runciman (R Campbell 62), R Knott, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman© (A Grieve 5-15), I Moody.
Referee: Sam Grove-White
Ayr: Try: Prentice, McApline, Macpherson 2; Con: Climo 4; Pen: Climo
Melrose: Tries: Ferguson, Beavon, Penalty Try, McCann, Thomson, Pecqueur, McCann; Con: Chalmers, Baggott; Pen: Chalmers.
Scoring sequence (Ayr first): 0-5; 5-5; 7-5; 7-8; 10-8; 10-13; 10-20; 10-25; 10-27; 10-32; 15-32; 17-32 (h-t) 22-32; 24-32; 24-37; 29-37; 31-37; 31-42; 31-44.
Yellow cards –
Melrose: Ferguson, Knott.
Man-of-the-Match: A typical all-action display from the understated but hugely influential Neil Irvine-Hess.
Talking point: A glorious afternoon in South Ayrshire, the two top club sides in the country determined to put on a show and serving up 11 tries in the process, all for a good cause – so why wasn’t this game even mentioned on the SRU’s weekly media schedule?