It was end-to-end action from start to finish; both teams played attacking rugby with ball in hand and with a minimum of cynicism, and the lead changed hands six times in all throughout this see-saw battle.
This league final was in the balance right up to the final whistle, the winning try coming around 12 minutes from time. as Heriot’s defended a one-point lead, Ayr were awarded a very kickable penalty.
In a move that looked foolhardy at the time, the home side instead kicked to the corner backing themselves to score… and they did, with a slew of backs joining the forwards in driving over the Heriot’s line. Hooker Robbie Smith was credited with the score. Frazier Climo then hit the touchline conversion right through the middle and Ayr held out for the nervy ten remaining minutes.
“They started very quickly but this group of players keep showing time and time again that, when they are losing, they believe until the last play,” said winning coach Peter Murchie. “They just keep going, they have that belief that they are going to come back so I am just really proud of them.
“I thought to myself, ‘this is a big call’,” Murchie replied when asked about kicking that late penalty into the corner. “We felt we had an edge on them in scrum and maul so, sometimes you have the momentum you need to have the balls to take it.”
The visitors were first on the scoreboard thanks to an early drop goal by stand-off Stuart Edwards, with a penalty advantage coming as insurance, and seven points from outside centre Ross Jones who touched down, after a good carry by hooker Michael Liness, and then jumped to his feet and converted his own try.
Heriot’s were 10-0 to the good after as many minutes, Ayr needed the next score and they got two. David Corbenici showed great footwork for a lock to unlock the Heriot’s defence and then showed everyone a clean pair of heels to the line, scoring from 40 yards out and stepping full-back Charlie Simpson with some style.
That score gave the home team a lift and only six minutes later a sublime inside ball by Glasgow pro Stafford McDowall gave winger Rowe his first and Ayr’s second try.
A little later the same man scored the solo score of the game when cutting in off his left wing 40 yards out, picking a diagonal line of attack and scorching the turf to touch down not far from the right-hand corner.
In between Jones’s double, Heriot’s scored their second try of the afternoon. The visitors kicked a penalty into touch and a few plays later Edwards kicked crossfield with the ball falling perfectly for winger Craig Robertson to catch and score in one movement. Jones missed that conversion but made amends by hitting the mark with one of two penalties late in the half to narrow Ayr’s advantage at the break to only 19-18.
Climo extended that advantage by three but Heriot’s responded when full-back Simpson skipped through the Ayr line and made good ground before, a few plays later, the ball was shipped to the right where the same man sent Scotland 20s’ winger Jack Blain over in the corner.
It gave Heriot’s a one-point advantage, but it wasn’t enough.