STEPHEN BRUNSDON @ Millbrae
TABLE-TOPPERS Ayr continued their unbeaten start to this season with a comprehensive victory on home territory, easing into a 21-7 half-time lead courtesy of tries from Gregor Henry, Stafford McDowall and Robbie Nairn, before scoring three more after the break to cement their place firmly at the top of the leaderboard, heading into next weekend’s west coast derby away to Glasgow Hawks.
“It’s not a game that will live too long in the memory but these are the types of games that, when you get to the end of the season, matter,” said Ayr head coach Peter Murchie. “That’s another five points against a very tough Hawick side and we needed to get the result. It’s good that a number of the boys who were making their first starts today came through and gave the performance they needed.”
Persistent heavy rain made conditions far from ideal as both sides endeavoured to secure early territorial gains. The hosts managed this better in the opening quarter thanks to the able boot of fly-half Frazier Climo, who repeatedly pegged Hawick back into their 22.
Ayr bagged the opening try through Henry following a driven line-out maul which the visitors could not stop, and Climo converted from the far touchline – it was a sign of things to come for George Graham’s men.
Starved of possession and crucial territory, Hawick struggled to get into the game until a brilliant set-piece move off the back of a creaking scrum paved the way for their only score of the match on 11 minutes.
Centre Andrew Mitchell burst through the Ayr defence and sprinted under the posts for the try, which was converted by fly-half Lee Armstrong.
That would unfortunately be it for the Borderers, who wilted under the pressure from the home side in the second period, falling to their sixth defeat in seven games this season.
“I’m bitterly disappointed with that, actually,” said Graham. “I thought we competed well in the first half and we had a good go at them. They probably managed the conditions a bit better than we did, but they came out and did what we [had] wanted to do.
“I’ve given my players a bit of a rollicking because I think we could have performed better against an Ayr side which was far from its best choice today. We just need to control the ball and hang onto it for longer periods.
Fine margins ultimately gave Ayr their second try of the match as Hawick – who seemed briefly galvanised by Mitchell’s score – launched another attack.
Off turnover ball, Climo’s attempted up-and-under was half charged down by opposite number Armstrong, sending the ball towards the on-rushing Ollie Smith. The Ayr centre beautifully collected with one-hand then fed winger Kyle Rowe, who sent McDowall in under the posts, again converted by Climo.
It was both a stroke of luck and brilliance which ultimately burried Hawick’s hopes in the match.
From then on, it was all one-way traffic. Robbie Nairn touched down following a powerful run from midfield, and second-row David Corbenici crossed shortly after the half-time break.
And while Hawick spent a good 15 minutes without conceding a try, they were punished physically at each scrum and line-out maul, and the visitors were relieved just to kick the ball dead when the opportunities arose.
McDowall eventually added his second, and the hosts’ fifth try, eight minutes from time. The Ayr pack, which asserted its dominance in the last quarter with aplomb, did the hard work, leaving Climo to release his centre over the line.
Grant Anderson finished the scoring and Climo again proved the key. The stand-off’s on-the-hoof kick sat up nicely for the full-back to touch down.
“We kept going and we talked about how important the next score after half time would be. We played in the right areas and tried paying some rugby in the second half. It was a solid performance,” concluded Murchie.
“It’s another step, we’re trying to take it week by week. Next week it’s our derby and it’s a big one for us so we have another week of preparation for that one. We’ve started well and we’ll try our utmost to keep it going.”
Ayr: G Anderson; R Nairn, O Smith, S McDowall, K Rowe; F Climo, D Armstrong; R Sayce, A McGuire, S Longwell, D Corbenici, A North, C Reece, G Henry, B Macpherson©. Subs: C Miller, E McLaren, W Van Dijk, H Warr, J Bova.
Hawick: K Ford; K Young, A Mitchell, G Walker, F Robson; L Armstrong, D Lightfoot; S Muir©, M Carryer, N Little, D Suddon, D Redpath, S Graham, D Davison, B McNeil. Subs: C Renwick, J Linton, D Lowrie, G Welsh, K Brunton
Referee: D Sutherland.
Ayr: Tries: Henry, McDowall 2, Nairn, Corbenici, Anderson; Cons: Climo 6.
Hawick: Tries: Mitchell; Cons: Armstrong.
Scoring Sequence (Ayr first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-5, 7-7, 12-7, 14-7, 19-7, 21-7 (h-t), 26-7, 28-7, 33-7, 35-7, 40-7, 42-7
Man-of-the-Match: In less than ideal weather conditions, this match was never going to be an exhibition of free-flowing running rugby. So it was left to Frazier Climo to use all his experience to orchestrate the early stages of the game in Ayr’s favour. His tactical kicking out of hand was nearly as impressive as his efforts off the tee – he landed all six conversions. It was an all-round performance with the half-back also setting up three tries.
Talking point: Territory was always going to be key in this match, and Ayr managed this far better than Hawick. While Hawick were able to build phases at times, Ayr made the most of what ball they had and turned it into points. Murchie’s side were clinical in the first period and utterly dominant up-front in the second.