Melrose got some measure of revenge for last Saturday’s defeat in the league final at the Greenyards by snatching victory in the BT Cup final at Murrayfield yesterday. They looked down and out, trailing by seven points inside the final 15 minutes, but in front of the Princess Royal – who presented the trophy – Melrose scored two tries to jump off the canvas and earn their victory the hard way.
“It’s been a long week,” said Melrose coach Rob Chrystie immediately after the match.
“There was a lot of emotion this week and in the performance, you saw that. The want and the desire were definitely there.
“If you look at the way Ayr are, you do generally score quite a lot of tries in the last 20 minutes if you can be in touch. We talked a lot about that this week and you are never going to win these types of games in the first 65 or 70 minutes.
“It’s what you do in that last ten that is really important.”
The lead changed hands several times in an engrossing game and neither side was able to carve out much of a lead; the two teams tied 18-18 with the clock winding down.
The next score looked like the winner and it fell to Nyle Godsmark, the rangy centre finding himself on the end of the best move of the match as Melrose attacked one way and then the other before a huge overlap opened up on the left and Godsmark went over the Ayr line unopposed.
The two teams approached this game very differently. Ayr gave the ball width at almost every opportunity and looked slick when doing so with Ross Curle restored to the team and always a danger with ball in hand. When he wasn’t threatening himself Curle was fizzing out long passes to the wide men.
Melrose were a little more staid, with most of their success coming through the driving maul which led to their opening score. The Borders side arguably lacked a little ambition in the opening hour of this game but they opened up in the final quarter and the tactic paid handsome dividends in the form of silverware.
The Melrose trump card was their work at the breakdown where they won umpteen penalties giving them either field position or precious points. The first man in yellow at the breakdown latched on to the ball like a limpet and Ayr were unable to shift them.
The match started with a bang, the first try coming after 41 seconds. Ayr kicked off and won the ball back in the very first contact to give them an attacking opportunity 15 metres from the Melrose line. A couple of phases later they whipped the ball wide, a long cut-out pass reaching No.8 Peter McCallum who straightened before sending winger Danny McCluskey diving over in the right-hand corner.
Melrose countered with a series of line-out drives and penalties that only ended when prop Jamie Bhatti was driven clean over the Ayr try line. The two kickers, Jason Baggott and Frazier Climo, missed both conversions but slotted one penalty apiece to leave the scores tried at 8-8 come the half-time break.
Baggott added another three after a lapse in discipline from Ayr who then scored a cracker of a try by flanker Will Bordill, although created by the excellent David Armstrong. From a line-out the scrum-half dummied and broke, making good ground before finding Bordill who won the sprint to the Melrose try line with something to spare. The majority of the action was taking place deep inside the Melrose half of the field and while the Borderers maintained their defensive line speed close to the breakdown they never looked entirely comfortable when Ayr moved the ball into the wider channels, Curle coming close to scoring in the left-hand corner.
As the match moved into the final quarter Climo added his second penalty to stretch Ayr’s lead to seven points but Melrose were far from finished even if their next score was a little fortuitous.
Two players were injured when contesting a kick, they stayed on the ground but the ball bounced kindly for Melrose and replacement Murdo McAndrew sprinted up the right flank before passing inside to winger George Taylor who romped home.
Craig Jackson added the extras to tie the scores at 18-18 inside the final ten minutes, which is when Godsmark popped up with the winner three minutes from time.