LEWIS STUART @ Poynder Park
JUST when it looked possible that Kelso’s seemingly inexorable rise to the Premiership might come unstuck, they produced a performance of guts and power to put themselves in pole position for promotion with just two games to go.
Ayr had come into the game as their most serious threat but the Borderers dominated the set-piece, rolling the opposition scrum back time after time and winning penalties while stealing almost half the visitors’ lines-outS, and they kicked the points when it mattered.
It was a perfect demonstration of how Kelso are a club on the rise with player coach Bruce McNeil later paying tribute to the players and staff round him who are making such a go of it all.
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“This journey began three years ago,” he explained. “If I’m being honest, we didn’t have much to chat about, the only way was up. Where we are now is building respect: respect for respecting, respect for the club, respect for the jersey. I know it’s a cliche but that’s what things are built on.
“There are a lot of people who come down and paid money to watch us. The least we can do is reward them. No matter the result, all we can do is leave nothing on the park, keep grounded and keep plugging away.”
They had come into the game with a one point lead over Ayr, but now face trips to GHK and Highland enjoying a five point advantage after closing out the match in a feisty second half, with a late penalty and a try from McNeil himself making sure that Ayr did not even pick up a losing bonus.
“We will prepare for the games the way we always do,” McNeil added. “Week after week, these guys come to training, they arrive early and we finish and we have 15 to 20 boys still out there later practicing their kicking work, tackling or fitness work. That’s what we’ll keep doing. Just keep everyone grounded, and we keep plugging away.”
For Ayr, the trouble is that their promotion hopes are no longer in their own hands. They have games against Gala and Stewart’s Melville, but even a full haul of 10 points in those matches won’t now guarantee Premiership rugby.
“It was a tough game,” said skipper Cammy Reece. “At halftime, we felt we had momentum. We had a lot of pressure, good territory and it was probably just that final pass that eluded us.
“We’ve got two games to go and hopefully can get 10 points out of that. We’re not taking anything for given but we will do all we can and see what happens.”
He was right in that despite being notoriously slow starters Ayr arguably should have had the lead at the break. They could have gone in front early and that could have changed the shape of the game, instead they ambitiously rejected the easy points.
They chose to kick for the corner and paid the price when they knocked-on at the line-out and the chance disappeared. They then paid a double price when Kelso made the most of their attacking chance by moving a line-out into midfield where fly-half Murray Hastie‘s offload found Dwain Patterson who sent fellow centre Frankie Robson on a canter to the line with enough strength to hold off the final, despairing challenge.
Ayr might have made inroads into Kelso’s lead but Jamie Bova missed a long-range kick at goal, only to be handed a lesson in how to do it by Patterson, who landed two from similar range to extend the home advantage, in the process going past 200 points for the season.
The west coast men again squandered a scoring chance wen Rhohan Pottie, the flanker, cut cleanly through only to see his offload to hooker David Young go astray, but in the end they did manage to get some points on the board before the break.
Pottie was again the instigator with a break from the 22 almost to the line. The forwards carried the move on and Bova cut clear on the right to put Scott Watson, the full-back, in for the try.
Having found their way to the line once, Ayr were quick to repeat the act, this time scrum-half Jack Anderson making the initial break and Bova putting in the cross-kick for Zachary Howard to score.
Bova couldn’t manage either touchline conversion, though, and the visitors were again made to pay when Kelso reclaimed the kick-off, battered their way into the opposition half and Patterson delivered the goal to send his side into the break six points to the good.
The second half was a grind. Kelso had all the pressure and a string of penalties but Ayr defended gamely and managed to hold out until almost the end when they Patterson added his fourth penalty, before Kelso finished with a flourish.
At last they got their maul going, driving for the line and McNeil got himself in position to take the feed and power over for the try that made the result rock-solid safe. Patterson was wide with the conversion but it didn’t matter.
Two tries apiece just about summed up the attacking power of both sides but it was the home side that had the forward strength to get into positions to kick the penalties.
The promotion fight is far from over, but Kelso know they will never earn a better chance to make it into the top flight.
Kelso: L Herdman; G Ponton, D Patterson, F Robson(C), A Roberts; M Hastie, A Tait; G Shiells, C Marshall, A Frame, C Thompson, K Melbourne, A Cowens, K Dryden, B McNeil. Subs: E Knox, T Logan, A Common, L Tait, N Stingl.
Ayr: S Watson; J Fulton, D McCluskey, J Bova, Z Howard; J Anderson, R McCorkindale; S Rae, D Young, R Sayce, E Hamilton, C Reece (C), M Kirk, R Pottie, P McCallum. Subs: S Collier, C Rae, M Leatherbarrow, R Anderson, C Wood.
Referee: S Cubitt
Kelso: Tries: Robson, McNeil; Con Patterson; Pens: Patterson 4.
Ayr: Tries: Watson, Howard.
Player-of-the-Match: There were plenty of big performances, with Michael Kirk a livewire for Ayr and Cammy Thompson doing a huge amount of damage at the line-out for Kelso but with 14 points and a hand in his side’s best moments, the prize goes to hoe centre Dwain Patterson.
Talking point: It says a lot for the community spirit that Kelso have generated round the club that this game was on at all. Volunteers were out at 7am to clear the pitch and make sure it was up to two matches in the course of the day, a sterling effort that shows how much the club means to people around the area.
Good to see Kelso win and hopefully gain promotion. Prefer to see clubs without super six connection in Premiership.
Great atmosphere at Poynder Park yesterday – two teams giving their all backed up by great vocal support for both sides. No shortage of skill either
The club game may not be in the deaththroes as some like to suggest