DAVID BARNES @ Goldenacre
THIS looked like a done deal after 39 minutes, with the visitors 18 points ahead, having completely dominated every facet of the game. But a penalty for the hosts just before half-time offered a glimmer of hope, and they rallied courageously after the break. Although they didn’t quite manage to land the knock-out blow, Heriot’s certainly had Ayr on the ropes a few times.
“We played very well in the first half, there’s no doubt about that, and to be honest it was a role reversal from the last couple of games when we’ve been poor in the first half,” said victorious coach Pete Murchie. “But we knew Heriot’s would come out firing, that was the main message at half-time, so we knew we had to raise ourselves, and there wasn’t actually much that went wrong – just some momentum swings.
“We’ve got to understand that if you back up a couple of penalties then you are going to end up under pressure, but we dug it out and managed to find a way to stretch away at the end.”
“If you come away to Heriot’s and you pick up five points then you are happy – and I am happy with the way the guys played.”
Kyle Rowe’s fearless leap claimed the kick-off for Ayr, and it was one-way traffic with the visitors on the front foot for the next 20 minutes. Heriot’s didn’t help themselves, with a weak penalty clearance from Ross Jones which fell several yards short of the touchline the most obvious example of the home team fluffing their lines when they had a chance to relieve the pressure during that period.
Climo on fire
Before the match was five minutes old, Ayr had helped themselves to an 8-0 lead thanks to a three-pointer from Frazier Climo, after Struan Cessford was called for loitering on the wrong side of a ruck in front of the posts, and a five-pointer from the electrifying Rowe, who came off his wing to step a tackler and race home from halfway.
Ayr’s booming confidence was exhibited when Climo burst through two men under the shadow of his own pasts. His scissors with Rory Hughes didn’t go to hand, but Stafford McDowall tidied up, and if the centre’s return pass to Hughes had not strayed forward then it would almost certainly have been length-of-the-park try for the Scotland international.
Climo extended the lead to 11 points just before the 15-minute mark with another bread-and-butter penalty after a petulant – or maybe desperate – Heriot’s hand had reached out of a ruck to slap the ball away as Ayr set about launching another wave of attack.
Heriot’s then had a short spell of possession but got very little change out of Ayr’s well-marshalled defence, and when Adam Sinclair was yellow-carded for getting himself involved in a bout of handbags, the momentum quickly swung back towards the visitors.
Steven Longwell thought he’d clambered over his tackler to score under the posts but referee Keith Allen identified that there had been a double movement so brought play back for a previous penalty, then two minutes later the big prop repeated the trick and this time the try stood.
At least Heriot’s managed to get off the mark just before the break with a Ross Jones penalty from in-front of the posts, after Hughes was penalised for entering a ruck from the side.
Heriot’s off the mark in second half
Heriot’s fired out the traps at the start of the second half and got themselves right back into it when Craig Robertson burst through on an inside ball from Andrew Simmers and then rode four tackles on his way to the line.
Ayr almost struck right back when Climo sniffed out a gap, but Hughes couldn’t hold onto the pass with the line at his mercy.
Heriot’s, meanwhile, were deadly clinical when they got their next chance. Robertson tiptoeing down the touchline then feeding Charlie Simpson with an overhead pass, who in turn released Simmers with a basketball style offload.
Suddenly, it was a one-point game, and all the momentum was with the home team. Their pack blasted their way to a scrum penalty as Ayr tried to control the ball at the base, Martin Hughes stole ball at the front of a line-out, and a ten-yard march-back for niggling with the ref after another scrum penalty reflected the visiting team’s exasperation.
Ayr needed a break, and they got it when Michael Liness lost control of possession in the act of setting up a ruck, and Longwell pounced. He fed McDowall, who sent Paddy Kelly into space, and the Warriors centre timed his inside pass to Rowe excellently. The winger still had plenty to do from just inside his own half, but he was never not making it.
If Ayr thought that had killed Heriots’ revival off they were in for a rude awakening. The home team got back in range and Dougie Steele capitalised when McDowall and David Armstrong made a dog’s dinner of collecting Stuart Edwards’ chip ahead.
It was breathless stuff. Ayr roared back into it, and after they snaffled possession inside the Heriot’s 22 the ball was shipped to Longwell, who offloaded out of contact to send Climo over for the bonus point score – and this time it was decisive. The men in pink and black monopolised possession during the final few minutes to ensure that their opponents did not even salvage a bonus point from the afternoon.
“It was an absolutely appalling first half,” shrugged defeated coach Phil Smith. “I don’t think we touched the ball in the first 18 minutes – except from one penalty when we missed touch – so there were a few choice words at half-time and a few fingers pointed, and I thought that was a great second half.
“To be fair to them, they were clinical. We made two errors [in the second half] and they scored off them, so fair play. We’d built the momentum by that point, we’d got in a position to win it, and they score straight off two turnover balls.”
“On the second half performance you could say we deserve a point, but on the first half performance we deserve nothing. So, we just need to take it on the chin and move on.”
Next up for Heriot’s is Stirling County away and Smith expects have a number of his missing men back. Ayr, meanwhile, face champions Melrose in what promises to be an epic battle at Millbrae.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; R McMichael, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; D Martin, A Simmers; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Bell, A Sinclair, I Wilson©, J McLean, F Munro. Subs: A Johnstone, J Scott,M Hughes, A Ball,D Steele.
Ayr: G Anderson; K Rowe, P Kelly, S McDowall, R Hughes; F Climo, D Armstrong; R Sayce, R Smith,S Longwell, D Corbenici, M Sykes, P McCallum©, T Spinks, B Macpherson. Subs: A McGuire, E McLaren, G Henry, A Rademaker, O Smith.
Referee: Keith Allen
Heriot’s: Try: Robertson, Simmers, Steele; Con: Jones 3; Pen: Jones.
Ayr: Try: Rowe 2, Longwell, Climo; Con: Climo 3; Pen: Climo 2.
Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 0-3; 0-8; 0-11; 0-16; 0-18; 3-18 (h-t) 8-18; 10-18; 15-18; 17-18; 17-23; 17-25; 22-25; 24-25; 24-30; 24-32.
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Plenty of candidates on both sides but Frazier Climo pulled the strings masterfully for Ayr.
Talking point: They came, they saw, they conquered: but Ayr are still looking for an 80-minute performance. They can’t expect Melrose to be as compliant during the first half next week as Heriot’s were here, so there won’t be a big cushion to rely on if they allow momentum to get away from them again.