Melrose 17-27 Ayr: Ayr battle back for bonus point

Ayr's James Eddie, left, closes down Richard Mill. Picture: SNS
Ayr's James Eddie, left, closes down Richard Mill. Picture: SNS
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Ayr coach Peter Laverie blasted his players for being too lazy after a poor first 40 minutes, and they responded with a super-charged second half performance that produced three tries to earn them maximum Premiership points.

“I had a long talk with the boys at half-time about getting our game speed up,” he explained. “I told them they had been lazy and weren’t working hard enough. They came back out and put together some decent passages of play.

“I didn’t think we would get the bonus point because of our error count and the conditions but, as second half unfolded and they got that bit of self-belief, they showed what they can do.”

The result means that Melrose stay top despite losing their last two matches, while Ayr, recording their fifth league victory in a row, creep closer to within three points with two games in hand. Gala, who beat second placed Heriot’s just down the road at Netherdale, are neck and neck with Ayr and also have two games in hand.

Ayr started the better of the two teams and, after only five minutes, ­having flung the ball from one side of the muddy pitch to the other and kept it always in rapid motion, ended the sweeping move with scrum-half ­Murray McConnell crashing over in the left-hand corner. They then lapsed into laziness, as their coach would describe it, and allowed Melrose to take control not only of the set-piece but the breakdown as well. By the end of the first quarter Melrose were piling on the pressure and when prop Nick Cox went offside at a ruck on his own 22, the Borderers’ confidence was high enough to kick for the corner rather than the posts. Lock Ross Ovens leapt to collect the ball at the lineout, smuggled it to hooker Todd Pearce who got the touch down as the maul rolled irresistibly over the line.

Joe Helps added the conversion, but then missed two very kickable penalties – one on the left and another on the right – that might have stretched Melrose’s lead. The second attempt came back off the post, causing panic in the Ayr defence.

They had already been warned about conceding so many penalties and lock Scott Sutherland had to take one for the team when the referee finally lost patience when he killed the ball ten metres out. Melrose, flaunting their dominance, opted for the scrum rather the kick and pushed Ayr back for No 8 Andrew Nagle to claim the try. Helps’ conversion made it 14-5 at half-time.

It was a chastened Ayr team who 
ran out into the rain for the second 40 having suffered their coach’s verbal tongue-lashing, but even they surprised themselves by creating three more 
tries and confining the home side to a solitary penalty.

Outside centre Robbie Fergusson got the first of the trio ten minutes in, finishing off a move that began when Melrose lost the ball in contact and Ayr recycled it at speed through the phases and shifted it through several pairs of hands. When stand-off Ross Curle banged over the conversion from close to the touchline, Ayr may have sensed the shift in the balance of power.

Melrose were irritating their supporters by kicking away possession, dropping simple passes and missing tackles, but they did battle their way into the Ayr 22 to force a defensive scrum.

But Ayr, who had previously struggled at the scrum, held firm and No  8 Callum Templeton picked up at the rear and ran through a suddenly disintegrating Melrose defence, reaching the halfway line before passing inside to Glasgow professional flanker James Eddie to go all the way for what must be a candidate for try of the season. And it was Curle who was on the end of the bonus-
point try as Melrose mistakes and 
Ayr’s skilful handling created the space for him to touch down in exactly the same spot that Fergusson had picked out earlier.

Melrose coach John Dalziel said: “I thought we were so dominant in the first half that we would just kick on, but it didn’t happen. Ayr are a quality side and I respect them for that, but 
we killed ourselves in the middle of 
the park.”