Ayr maintained their challenge for the RBS Premiership title after sealing this win with a gutsy defensive effort in the closing stages of an encounter brimming with entertaining rugby and fought out at a high intensity.
Reflecting on a success that was built on a try double by international prop Jon Welsh, Ayr coach Kenny Murray did not mince his words. “Relief is the first word that comes to mind. We didn’t perform in the first half”, he said. “We were a bit better in the second half and we stepped up the intensity of our play.”
Murray’s men made the early running but their efforts were undone by errors in sight of the line. There were 12 minutes on the clock when Heriot’s, looking to step up their bid for a top four finish in the league, visited opposition territory for the first time, but also committed errors.
The momentum swung in Ayr’s favour after 17 minutes when Kerr Gossman made a break and chipped ahead. He was impeded as he chased the kick but Ross Curle showed his pace to win the race for the line.
That score prodded Heriot’s back into attacking mode and they squared matters with a flowing move that appeared to have foundered on a fumble. But the ball went backwards and the move ended with Struan Cessford supplying the scoring pass for Kevin Bryce to crash over. Graham Wilson’s conversion attempt struck the post but the skipper made no mistake with a subsequent penalty to nudge the hosts into the lead after half an hour.
His score prompted a spell of dominance for the hosts, featuring some sublime rugby but they failed to capitalise on a man advantage after Robbie Fergusson was yellow-carded. And parity was restored three minutes before the interval when Finn Russell stroked over a penalty for an offence inside the home 22.
Ayr restarted briskly but it was the home side who were next on the scoreboard. Cammy Ferguson plucked a chip ahead out of the air and sparked a move that ended with the ball being moved wide to Michael Paterson, who raced in at the corner.
Back came Ayr and another series of attacks ended with Welsh plunging over for the equalising score. And, when Russell booted the conversion, the visitors were ahead for the second time in the match.
And they extended their lead four minutes later when Welsh burrowed over for a try that was awarded after consultation with the assistant referee. Russell’s conversion took the gap to nine points. They spurned further chances to add to the tally before Wilson reduced the deficit with a penalty that was advanced ten metres after Nick Campbell failed to retreat – an offence that earned the Ayr lock ten minutes in the sin bin.
A final flourish from Heriot’s produced several scoring opportunities but their efforts proved fruitless against a solid Ayr defence and the hosts had to settle for a narrow defeat bonus point.