Ayr 20 - 22 Melrose: Champions take advantage

AT THE conclusion of this coruscating semi-final, the SRU had the inaugural BT Premiership final they perhaps wanted – runaway regular season league leaders Heriot’s against defending champions Melrose.

Melrose prop Euan McQuillan tries to burst through Andrew Dunlops tackle at Millbrae. Picture: SNS/SRU

And nobody at Millbrae would deny ‘Rose’s right to go to Goldenacre to defend their crown. They displayed wonderful resilience to recover from last week’s Greenyards loss, then come from behind in the second-half at Millbrae to win.

But, that said, Melrose did not so much win this one as Ayr lose it.

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Poor decision-making at key moments, white-line fever, call it what you wish, Ayr could and should have won it. They squandered three clear try-scoring chances and their game lacked the precision and sense of purpose of Melrose’s.

That purpose was touched-on by Melrose coach John Dalziel when he revealed he had used the presence of the championship trophy in the Melrose club-house to re-focus his men after last week’s loss.

“We had three excellent four-hour training sessions this week; we reviewed videos, we used being champions as motivation and it worked,” he said.

“I am immensely proud of the boys. There is a lot of mutual respect between ourselves and Ayr. We knew it would be tough, it was. We knew somebody would be disappointed, thankfully for us, it is Ayr but the job isn’t done and we now have to go to Goldenacre and win.”

Ayr’s Calum Forrester also touched on the mutual respect, but, naturally, he was very disappointed. “We killed ourselves,” he said. “Maybe we were too ambitious at times but we didn’t look after the ball when we had it, we made mistakes and, having earned the right to home advantage, we didn’t make it count. Fair play to Melrose, however, we wish them well in the final.”

Ross Curle and Joe Helps exchanged early penalties before Ayr carved-out an unconverted try for Cammy Taylor. However, forward power saw Grant Runciman get the credit for a try off a line-out maul, which Helps converted to put the visitors 10-8 in front at the break.

Two tries in three minutes for Ayr, scored by skipper Dean Kelbrick, converted by Curle, and winger Robbie Fergusson after 51 and 54 minutes, had the home team ten points clear but back came Melrose and, when Graham Fisken illegally brought down another advancing Melrose maul, he was yellow-carded and Richard Mill converted the penalty try.

The winning score was unfortunate for Ayr full-back Grant Anderson, who failed to deal with a bobbling kick through. Melrose won the ball back and put replacement Murdo McAndrew in for the vital score. But, having lost the ball with a mere two seconds on the clock, Melrose had to defend through five minutes of patient Ayr momentum-gathering, before Ross Curle was bundled into touch at the corner and the final whistle blown on an epic match.

Who said semi-finals are seldom memorable?

And, as a bonus for the victors, they won back the Bill McLaren Shield, which they had surrendered to Ayr just seven days previously.

Scorers: Ayr – Tries: Taylor, Kelbrick, Fergusson. Con: Curle. Pen: R Curle. Melrose: Tries: Runciman, penalty, McAndrew; Cons: Helps, Mill. Pen: Helps.

Ayr: G Anderson; R Fergusson, R Curle, D Kelbrick, C Taylor; D McCluskey, D Armstrong; G Hunter, D Hall, D Rae, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, A Dunlop, W Bordill, B MacPherson. Substitutes: F Scott, S Fenwick, J Eddie, P McCallum, G Fisken, M McConnell, K Gossman.

Melrose: F Thomson; T Mau, T Galbraith, A Nagel, J Helps; A Lockington; B Colvine; N Beavons, T Pearce, E McQuillan, J Head, L Carmichael, H Blake, G Runciman, G Dodds. Substitutes: R Ferguson, N Little, N Irvine-Hess, R Mill, M McAndrew, R Knott, B Hutchison

Referee: A McMenemy.

• Stirling County face a play-off to retain their place inthe BT Premiership after falling to a 22-16 defeat against Glasgow Hawks at Old Anniesland in the final league match of the season.

County will play GHA, who finished runners-up in National League One, on 25 April in a one-off match to decide who will play in the top-flight of the Scottish club game next season.