DAVID BARNES @ Millbrae
AN impressive declaration of intent from the team which finished nine points clear at the top of the table at the end of the last regular season but came unstuck against Heriot’s in the play-off Grand Final. That loss really hurt the Millbrae men and there is an almost obsessional determination within the squad to make amends this year.
Head coach Calum Forester was not going to get too carried away by one result, but he didn’t shy away from the lofty ambitions the team have set themselves.
“Having been beaten in the semi-final two years ago, and the final last year, we don’t want to feel like that again,” he said.
“A lot of our boys have learned from last year and it is the same core of the team apart from a couple of key guys who retired over the summer. So, it’s about making use of experienced players like Ross Curle and Frazier Climo to guide the youngsters like Craig Stevenson and Gregor Henry, who I thought were excellent today – and hopefully we can all enjoy a bit of success over the next few years.”
“We had the opportunity to run in a few tries in the second half today which I don’t think would have happened if we had played Currie in a couple of weeks’ time once they’ve had a few more games together. We need to go away and look at our line-out and tidy up that area because we need to get that functioning if we are going to do anything in this league,” he added.
For Ben Cairns, the outlook is rather less encouraging, but he still believes his young squad has the raw ability to make waves in this league as long as they can start getting the fundamentals right.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance to perform today. I think three of their four tries in the first half came off our mistakes when we literally handed them the ball and let them score. For their third try we had a five metre line-out, we knock it on then give away a penalty from the scrum, they kick to touch and we won the line-out but knocked-on again, then we gave away another penalty in the scrum and they kick to touch and score – that summed it up. We went from their five metre line to our five metre line by giving them penalties and knock-ons,” he pointed out.
“We did the same two weeks ago against Hawks, but we rectified it when we went down to Blaydon and played pretty well to get the win, so I thought we had got that learning into them that foundation-wise you have to play in the right areas, look after your own possession and win your set-piece – but we’ve just gone back to coughing up ball again.”
“We’ve maybe expected some of these guys to be further on than they are in terms of game understanding, but I don’t think we are at the stage yet where we can say we are just not good enough – because it is brain explosions and silly mistakes that are costing us. We need to get better at thinking our way round the pitch. It’s not a talent thing, it is guys not engaging their brain or not taking enough responsibility themselves.”
“Gala at home next week has now become a massive game because if we perform like that gain we will lose again.”
The mood of this match was set within a minute of kick-off when Ayr grabbed the first of their eight tries. Currie were certainly the architects of their own downfall for this one. With most of his pack committed to a ruck straight from kick-off, the Currie backline decided to throw three long, flat passes across the park inside their own 22, which offered Curle the sort of opportunity to hit man and ball which he was never going to pass up. Possession was snaffled by the home team and by the time they had worked through three sharp phases, Curle had swept round to collect Climo’s feed and bustle over.
To their credit, Currie bounced right back, with Robbie Nelson being held up over the line after a sustained period of pressure. However, Ayr pulverised the subsequent scrum, and a few minutes later Climo and Jamie Bova combined to send skipper Pete McCallum over for try number two. Climo drilled home the conversion from the touchline.
A charged down Climo clearance handed Currie another scrum close to Ayr’s line – but once again they were bullied out of it by the dominant home eight, and they then gifted Ayr yet another scrum penalty which allowed Climo’s long searching left boot to set up camp five yards from their opponents’ line. Currie managed to halt the line-out drive, but they had no answer when McCallum fed from the base of a scrum, Climo acted as the link man, and Archie Russell stretched over.
Climo added the conversion and then slotted a penalty, before the four try bonus point was wrapped up on the stroke of half-time when Currie fumbled the ball near the halfway line, Curle collected and kicked ahead, and Bova won the footrace to score under the posts.
Currie finally got off the mark with a Forbes penalty at the start of the second half, but this was little more than a gentle road bump for the black and pink procession. Normal service was resumed with Bova grabbing his second try after kicking ahead and then showing great pace and power to hunt down and brush aside the hapless Harvey Elms as he tried to deal with the bobbling ball.
Another sweeping Ayr attack down the right touchline saw Curle and Russell combine to send Climo unchallenged under the posts, McCallum sent Bova over in the same corner for his hat-trick try a few minutes later, and when Danny McLuskey charged home from 50 yards after Nelson spilled the ball whilst being flattened in the tackle, there was a distinct danger that this was going to turn into some sort of farce.
Ayr clearly fancied pushing on, to really set down a marker which would send shockwaves through the rest of the Premiership, and they continued to compete ferociously – but Currie managed to stem the tide, largely thanks to the steadying influence of stalwart captain Ross Weston and his wily sidekick Richard Snedden, who had by now replaced Charlie Shiel at scrum-half.
The visitors even managed to snaffle a consolation try when a well weighted cross-kick from Forbes was collected by Cameron Gray in acres of space.
Ayr: Try: Curle, McCallum, Russell, Bova 3, Climo, McCluskey; Cons: Climo 5; Pen: Climo.
Currie: Try: Gray; Con: Forbes; Pen: Forbes.
Ayr: C Gossman; J Bova, A Russell, R Curle, C Taylor; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, D Young, S Longwell, C Stevenson, R McAlpine, L Scott, G Henry, P McCallum. Subs used: R Smith, A Prentice, B McPherson, D McCluskey, McDowell.
Currie: H Elms; M Hooks, M McPhillips, R Nelson, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; Jo Cox, F Scott, G Carson, H Bain, S Ainslie, R Davies, T Gordon, R Weston. Subs used: A McWillam, R Snedden, G Clow, P Mundell, G Temple.
Referee: S Grove-White
Man-of-the-Match: After ten years playing rugby league in Australia, Ayrshire native Jamie Bova still adapting to the fifteen man code – but he has bags of pace and power, and a hat-trick on his competitive debut for the club deserves acknowledgement.
Talking point: Was this a true indication of Ayr’s strength or a function of Currie’s vulnerability?
Image courtesy of George McMillan