IN A BT Cup tie where the second top team in the top tier visited the second top team in the third cohort, a final scoreline of 50-19 in the visitors’ favour was logical. Though on a second look, perhaps the three tries scored by the “minnow” hosts were less expected.
Hamilton 19-50 Ayr
Scorers: Hamilton - Tries: Turnbull, Skilling, Hill. Cons: McLeish 2. Ayr - Tries: Gossman 2, Fergusson, Dalgleish, McAlpine, McCallum, McPherson, Armstrong. Cons: Lowe 5.
The Ayr coach, Calum Forrester, was certainly left with things to ponder. His side are currently second behind Melrose in the BT Premiership table, after leading it for a couple of weeks in November. The league campaign begins again this coming weekend with Ayr facing the first of a brace of difficult fixtures. Forrester said: “We start back with Edinburgh Accies and then it’s Boroughmuir – two teams fighting for their lives.”
With this in prospect, Forrester wanted the cobwebs blown away, saying: “Though we trained through the Christmas break, it’s not the same as having a match; and we were rusty today.”
Ayr got off to a flying start in just the second minute with full-back Craig Gossman using his speed to get first to a kick through. Unabashed, Hamilton tied the scores in the 12th minute. They forced a scrum five and from it scrum-half Stephen Turnbull broke blind and threaded through weak Ayr defence for the touchdown converted by Owen McLeish.
There was occasional rustiness in the Ayr backs’ handling, but two sweet tries were conjured up for Gossman, again, and then Robbie Fergusson. Again, though, Hamilton found weakness in the Ayr defence. Benefitting from a couple of penalty awards they reached the Ayr posts where Craig Skinning crashed over. By the break Ayr led 29-14, thanks to late tries from Richard Dalgleish and Rob McAlpine, but the anticipated one-way traffic of the second half didn’t arrive. Indeed Hamilton inflicted their cruellest cut of all with a driven lineout try in the 51st minute, touched down by captain and No 8 Andy Hill.
Ayr did, however, run in three second-half tries through Pete McCallum, Blair McPherson and Forrester’s man-of-the-match, scrum-half David Armstrong, with Lowe taking his conversion bag to five.
While Ayr had one or two regulars missing, Hamilton were very short-handed as the tie coincided with the wedding of former player and now rising referee David Sutherland.
This was highlighted by assistant coach Stevie Anderson, who was in charge for the day, saying: “Four in the backs normally play second team rugby, they had to step up and they did a really good shift. Indeed, centre David Deuchar was due to be on the bench but was thrown in to the starting line-up when Stuart Whitelaw, himself not a regular, pulled up in the warm-up. I think David was very solid coming in for his first start in the first team.”
He added: “Ayr were clinical, professional and very physical. Ultimately, that was the difference. When they got into the final third they came away with points.”
Hamilton: S Whiteside; C Skilling, S Whitelaw, D Deuchar, M Kennedy; O McLeish, S Turnbull; J Kippenberger, B Leonard, G Richardson, F Dunnachie, J McKee, S Alexander, B Wilson, A Hill (c). Replacements: C McLaughlin, D McGrath, K Richmond, C Brown, L Bell.
Ayr: C Gossman; R Dalgleish, R Fergusson, D Kelbrick (c), C Taylor; G Lowe, D Armstrong; S Fenwick, J Malcolm, F Watt, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, G Fisken, A Dunlop, P McCallum. Replacements: F Scott, G Hunter, B MacPherson, W Bordill, M Beckwith.
Referee: D McClement.