What a difference a week makes. Last Saturday, Ayr finished a poor second to Melrose in the BT Scottish Cup semi-final. Yesterday, seven days on, same clubs, same venue, with this semi-final in the BT Premiership, but one big difference – the Ayr side.
Disciplined where they had not been in the Cup, determined, after four straight losses, to put one over on their visitors, they got in front and never lifted their foot off either the accelerator, or Melrose’s throat, until they had secured their place in the Premiership Play-Off Final, where they will entertain defending Champions Heriot’s, back at Millbrae, on Saturday, 23 April.
Victorious coach Calum Forrester praised a massive effort from his pack, who dominated throughout and this dominance allowed stand-off Frazier Climo to deliver a man-of-the-match performance, with 28 points, from one try, four conversions and five penalty goals.
“We built a platform, then executed our game plan. The boys have been magnificent all week and they came out of the shell they were in last week,” said Forrester. “The guys who had an off-day in the Cup stood-up today, I am proud of them.”
Melrose coach John Dalziel said: “We didn’t give ourselves a chance, we made too many mistakes, they scored 28 points off our errors and it was a poor show from us.
“Ayr were certainly more motivated after last week, and, maybe we were too relaxed. We didn’t put any sustained periods of pressure together and, although I felt, early in the second half, we could get back, it didn’t happen”.
Ayr soaked up a strong Melrose start, then took the lead in 14 minutes, a couple of charges off line-out ball were repulsed, before big Robin McAlpine breenged over for a try which Climo converted. Three minutes later the stand-off stretched Ayr’s lead with his first penalty goal.
Joe Helps missed a kickable chance for Melrose midway through the half and, as the visitors pressed, Ayr’s defence was given a tough examination, before a couple of line-out steals allowed Ayr to break up the park and, on the half hour, Climo’s second penalty goal edged them further in front.
The stand-off then took Ayr further ahead, charging down Nyle Godsmark’s attempted clearance, hacking-on and just beating Bruce Colvine to the touch down. He missed that conversion, hitting the post, but, with the final kick of the first half, he increased the Ayr lead to 21-0.
Richard Mill’s 43rd-minute penalty offered hope to Melrose, but, this was fleeting as Ayr pressed and off a line-out in the corner, Will Bordill charged over, Climo converted and it was 28-3. Climo then notched another penalty before, from a great line-out take by Scott Sutherland, David Armstrong broke, Junior Bulumakau supported and Peter McCallum carried the move on for a try, again converted by Climo.
But, Melrose kept plugging away and, after a series of short charges were held by the home defence, replacement Ruaridh Knott finally got over at the posts, Richard Mill converted and Melrose were in double figures.
That was as good as it got for the Borderers. Almost from the restart, Climo kicked his fifth penalty, then, after Ruaridh McLeod was yellow carded, Ayr finished in style, Ross Curle intercepting and sprinting 80 metres for the final try, converted by Climo.
McCallum was yellow carded late on, as Melrose kept plugging away, but, by then, the game was over as a contest and Ayr knew they were in the Play-Off Final.
Ayr captain Curle said: “We wanted it more. We had seven days to think about this one and our attitude was spot-on, but we owe a huge debt to our pack. Everyone of them, the starters and the guys who came on put in a great shift.
“You cannot win without a solid platform and they provided us with one. The scrum was solid, we pinched some line-out ball and they were magnificent from start to finish.”
Curle scored the final try with his great 80-metre run. He said: “I was looking to off-load from about half-way, but the Melrose men who were chasing me ran into the same quicksand. I got some stick for scoring wide out, but Frazier (Climo) can knock them over from anywhere.”
SCORERS: Ayr: Tries: R McAlpine, F Climo, W Bordill, P McCallum, R Curle. Con: Climo 4. Pens: Climo 5. Melrose: Try: R Knott. Con: R Mill. Pen: J Helps.
AYR: G Anderson, J Bulumakau, R Curle, D McCluskey, C Gossman, F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, D Young, J Sebastian, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, B Macpherson, W Bordill, P McCallum. Replacements used: S Fenwick, G Sykes, C Stevenson, A Dunlop, A Russell, R Dalgleish, H McPherson.
MELROSE: N Godsmark, B Colvine, J Helps, G Taylor, S Pecquer, T Galbraith, M McAndrew; J Bhatti, R Ferguson, N Beavon, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, G Dodds. Replacements used: G Turner, R McLeod, E McQuillan, R Knott, R Mill, A Miller, D Colvine.
REFEREE: S Grove-White.