Melrose 12 - 22 Ayr: Melrose title defence slides
League leaders Ayr blasted a big hole in the fragile glass house Melrose have built around their hopes of retaining the Premiership title with three well-aimed blows.
A trio of tries answered only by four penalties kept unbeaten Ayr on top and sent the Borderers sliding to fourth place, with Gala and Currie overtaking them in a re-arranged table that, even at this early stage of the season, has a west coast bias that is beginning to look daunting for the chasing group.
Scotland stand-off Ruaridh Jackson, fresh from helping Glasgow to victory over Connaught in the pro league, appeared in the pink and black shirt of Ayr as promised and while he was expected to bring a touch of class, it didn’t quite work out that way.
His place kicking was woeful and when he went for a drop goal it banana-hooked across the front of the posts and resulted in a freak try for lock Scott Sutherland who was taking a breather out on the touchline well out of harm’s way and with nobody near him.
“I’d like to say it was a pre-planned move but I can’t,” said Ayr coach Kenny Murray. “It was a drop goal that went bad and then came good. But the other two tries were well constructed and we had the zip and the accuracy when we needed it. Apart from the kicking, Ruaridh managed the game well for us in his hour on the pitch.”
The first quarter was all a bit of a shambles with neither side able to impose themselves, but it was always Ayr who looked the more dangerous as Melrose struggled to get up to speed and only openside Grant Runciman’s ability to constantly nick the ball at the breakdown was disrupting the visitors’ flow.
Jackson missed his first relatively simple penalty attempt and winger Craig Gossman was only denied a try when it was ruled he had put a foot in touch as he scorched down the right.
Melrose were winning a lot of possession but seemed to have no idea what to do with it. Ayr, by contrast, had plenty of ideas with ball in hand. They just weren’t working. Gossman was almost in again on the right wing and the hapless Jackson dunted his forehead with the heel of his hand as he missed an even easier penalty attempt.
Melrose’s Andrew Skeen showed he could miss too with a first miscued attempt, but got it right with a second that finally put points on the board. Ayr hit back immediately as full-back Grant Anderson kicked ahead, accepted a kindly bounce, and ran in behind the posts. Jackson converted to ironic cheers.
The Melrose pack were warned about the number of infringements and winger Greg White was sent to the bin for sealing off as Ayr attacked. A forward move then rumbled over the Melrose line but there were too many bodies obscuring the ball for it to be called.
Next to go to the bin was Ayr flanker Andy Dunlop for a careless high tackle in his own 22. Skeen landed the penalty and brought his team to within a single point.
Into injury time in the first half and Jackson was aware that the next time the ball went dead the whistle would go, so he dropped into the pocket and went for the drop goal that miraculously turned into Sutherland’s try. Jackson had the good grace to kick the conversion with a wry smile on his face.
If Ayr’s second try was of dubious pedigree, the third soon after the restart was out of the top drawer. Number 8 Callum Forester came through the middle of a ruck to win the ball, which was shipped wide to Craig Gossman, who took on the defenders as he off-loaded to replacement centre Ross Curle, whose quicksilver pass to Anderson gave him the space to reach the line.
It was all Melrose after that but the Ayr defence soaked up everything that was thrown at them. Only once did Melrose breach the gain line significantly when lock Ross Ovens galloped from halfway into the 22, but poor follow-up handling destroyed the advantage.
Ayr did get close enough for Skeen to kick a penalty that would have given Melrose a consolation losing bonus point. But with three minutes to go and Jackson on the bench, scrum half Peter Jericevich stepped up to land a penalty that put even that beyond the hosts.
Melrose captain John Dalziel said: “We created opportunities and gave ourselves a chance to win the game at half-time, but we were putting a whole lot of effort into winning the ball and then we would go and do something really sloppy and give it straight back. In the second half they looked out on their feet and it was mostly about us, but what we produced was all a bit too lateral. I can’t fault the effort of the team, but the accuracy was not what we were hoping for.”
Scorers: Melrose – Pens: Skene (4). Ayr – Tries: Anderson (2), Sutherland. Cons: Jackson (2). Pen: Jericevic.
Melrose: F Thomson; G White, N McGrath, R Mill, J Helps; A Skeen, S McCormick; N Little, W Mitchell, G Holborn, P Eccles, R Miller, J Dalziel, G Runciman, A Nagle. Substitutes: A Walker, C Keen, R Ovens, B Colvine, S Chalmers.
Ayr: G Anderson; C Gossman, R Fergusson, R Dalgleish, K Gossman; R Jackson, P Jericevich; D Mutamangira, H Wisneski, N Cox, C White, S Sutherland, G Fisken, A Dunlop, C Forrester. Substitutes: G Hunter, S Fenwick, P McCallum, R Doneghan, R Curle.
Referee: A McMenemy.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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