IF THE mark of an ambitious coach is to constantly look forwards rather than backwards, then there are surely few limits to Kenny Murray’s horizons.
Ayr – Tries: Gossman, Dalgleish, Anderson, Jerecevich (2), Forrester, Fisken. Cons: Jerecevich (2).
Currie – Try: Entwhistle. Con: Forbes. Pens: Forbes (2).
After his side brought the league title back to Millbrae by scoring seven tries in a 39-13 thrashing of Currie, while nearest rivals Gala lost at Stirling County, the Ayr coach saluted a job half done.
“This is not over yet,” he said. “We’ve been the most consistent team this year by a country mile, and I’m really pleased for the players and the club because this is the second time we’ve won the title in five years. But we’ve got a Scottish Cup match next week, and a double to go and win.”
If Ayr can reproduce the form they showed against Currie when Stirling County arrive at Millbrae next Saturday for the RBS Cup quarter-final, Murray’s men have a better-than-evens chance of completing the double that was denied to them in 2010 when they won the Cup by defeating Melrose, only to lose the league on a winner-takes-all encounter with the men from Malleny Park.
Murray admitted that memories of that disappointment, and the knowledge that Currie are the only side to have beaten Ayr this season, were still fresh in their minds before Saturday’s match, helping produce a performance of enormous intensity and desire from the home side. Such was Ayr’s control of territory and possession that Currie never looked like leaving with the points.
Currie’s resilience and some wasteful finishing from Ayr maintained an illusion of a close contest for most of the first half, at least on the scoreboard, with tries by home wings Craig Gossman and Richard Dalgleish countered by two penalties from Currie full-back Jamie Forbes to bring the score to 10-6 after 40 minutes. However, a try by Grant Anderson deep into first-half injury time after a succession of forward drives on the Currie line freed up space out wide for the Ayr full-back to give them a 15-6 interval lead.
Ayr put the result beyond doubt immediately after the restart, with outstanding scrum-half Peter Jercevich scooting over in the corner after a half-break by Dalgleish. The bonus point secured, and with Currie wilting and Ayr’s forwards utterly dominant, among them lock Scott Sutherland, openside Andy Dunlop and skipper Calum Forrester to the fore, Ayr began to turn their superiority into points. Further tries from Forrester, Jercevich and replacement Graham Fisken gave the scoreboard a more realistic look, while Currie gained a late try by openside Michael Entwhistle.
Even Murray was taken aback at the scale of Ayr’s triumph. “The score today surprised me a wee bit,” he admitted. “Three years ago we went to Currie to win the league and failed, so we know how formidable they can be. But once we got that bonus point the boys just opened up and played some really good rugby. And even though the boys knew they’d won it, the defence was watertight right up until the last couple of minutes, which shows the spirit the boys have got. Gala away was the most important win of the year, but this was the most impressive – it’s not very often any team puts seven tries past Currie.”
If the crushing extent of Ayr’s victory was a surprise, Gala’s loss was more predictable. George Graham’s men have been riding their luck of late, with three one-point victories in their last four matches, all three of their opponents missing two straightforward kicks in the dying minutes, while Stirling County’s 21-39 win at Currie last week must have warned the Netherdale men of the challenge that awaited them at Bridgehaugh. County’s 26-21 loss with one game remaining now allows Ayr to focus their attentions on chasing the double.
It is a far cry from last season, when Ayr’s mediocre league form meant they missed out on qualifying for the British and Irish Cup. It was, says Murray, a “huge disappointment” which led to a redoubling of efforts on the training paddock. While Murray believes Ayr possess a “very good group of players”, he nevertheless singled out the elevation of No 8 Calum Forrester to the captaincy, the form of scrum-halves Peter Jerecevich and Murray McConnell, and the return from injury of tighthead prop Peter Cox as key changes.
It is difficult to overstate how far Ayr have come in such a short time. Just a decade ago they were battling for local supremacy with Kilmarnock, and five years back they had a team which was built around imports like Aussie captain Damien “Skippy” Kelly and Kiwi backs Mark Stewart and Frazier Climo. Now, despite those players having moved on while local men such as Mark Bennett and Gordon Reid have left for the pro ranks, Ayr have reinvented themselves. Stalwarts like Sutherland, Dunlop and influential centre Ross Curle form the backbone of the side, but youngsters like Scotland under-18 player Gavin Lowe, plus centre Robbie Fergusson and prop D’arcy Rae – who both featured in Friday night’s win over Ireland under-20s at Netherdale – suggest that the future of the club is rosy.
Indeed, the only blot on the landscape was the crazy decision to schedule this showpiece match against two Six Nations fixtures, leading to a reduced crowd, and the obvious frustration of a coach who sees his career progression stymied. “I have ambitions for myself but it’s quite difficult to push up the coaching ladder in Scotland, which is why guys are leaving,” said Murray. “At the moment my focus is on finishing this season at Ayr and going for the Cup double.”
Ayr: G Anderson; R Dalgleish, R Curle, D Kelbrick, C Gossman; F Russell, P Jercevich; D Mutamangira, S Fenwick, N Cox, S Sutherland, N Campbell, C White, A Dunlop, C Forrester (capt).
Currie: J Forbes; A Hinds, S James, J Houston, M Peacock; G Hunter, R Snedden; A Hamilton, T Wright, F Watts, G Temple, S Marcel, M Cairns, M Entwhistle, R Weston.
Referee: P Allan.