The home side emerged victorious from this clash of the BT Premiership’s two “Superpowers”. Ayr’s greater control, particularly in the pack, allowed them to overcome poor conditions and a determined Melrose side, and in turn displace their visitors from the head of the table as the big two clashed for the first time this season.
This game was tight all the way through, and might have gone the other way as both sides had chances. Ayr, however, always seemed to have more in their tank, although they made heavy weather of things, particularly in the first half, when they butchered no less than seven great opportunities when deep in the Rose red zone.
The opening try came from one such Ayr error. They were inside the visitors’ five-metre zone when a knock-on handed Melrose a free ball. They accepted the gift with alacrity, Neil Irvine-Hess in particular making crucial hard yards as they swept downfield for Murdo McAndrew to dive over for a try, converted by Jason Baggott.
Unfortunately for Melrose, during their break-out, Fraser Thomson tweaked a hamstring and had to go off. The attacking threat he brings was sorely missed thereafter.
Ayr led at the interval, Frazier Climo kicking two penalties in 18 and 31 minutes to send the hosts in at the break a mere one point ahead.
The normally reliable Climo is not quite firing on all cylinders from the tee this season. However, his line kicking from hand was a vital factor in allowing Ayr to relieve Melrose pressure and keep the visitors penned in their own half for long spells.
“To be fair to the boys, they were positive, saying if we keep doing what we have been doing, it will come,” said happy Ayr coach Calum Forrester.
However, they needed a bit of luck. Jason Baggot missed a penalty you would normally expect him to kick early in the second half, then a yellow card – for “not rolling away after a tackle” – to Melrose prop Nick Beavon gave Ayr the toe-hold they needed.
The home pack was already building up a fierce head of steam but Beavon going off allowed them to pound the Melrose line. The visiting defence was resolute but, with mere seconds remaining of Beavon’s time on the naughty step, Ayr went wide and skipper Grant Anderson sent Cammy Taylor over for the crucial match-winning try.
It was still, however, anybody’s game. Melrose had a lengthy spell of pressure but big Rob McAlpine was a colossus for Ayr, as he repeatedly pirated line-out ball deep in Ayr’s 22 to ease the pressure.
The home side were also hammering at the Melrose line on the back of some great work by their pack when the final whistle sounded.
By then, Melrose were again short-handed, Jamie Bhatti copping an early finish after a no-arms tackle.
“Ayr’s defence was great, we had chances to win it but they kept shutting us out,” said Melrose coach Robin Chrystie.
“We’re disappointed but it’s only September and this defeat is not the end of the world.”
Forrester, who stuck with his starting XV throughout, said: “I thought we played the conditions better, our pack showed good control and, even when we were losing at the break, the guys were sure, if they could cut out the mistakes, we would win.
“Full credit to Melrose, they scored a great try and made it very difficult for us”.
Credit to Ayr for winning when under-strength. The loss of centre pairing Ross Curle and Archie Russell on Thursday night was not helpful but the stand-ins did well, with big Stafford McDowall, the 18-year-old fresh out of Merchiston Castle School, performing well in his first start.