Pontypridd 33 - 12 Ayr: Scots raid repelled by proud Ponty

IGNORE the 21-point margin at the end, this British & Irish Cup tie could have gone either way, before Ayr finally crumbled in the face of Ponty pressure and a couple of crucial yellow-cardings to back row forwards. But the Scottish Cup holders went down with all colours flying.

The match had only been given the go-ahead less than five minutes before the scheduled kick-off time yesterday, after a frantic Saturday search of playable pitches in South Wales saw it switched from Ponty's Sardis Road ground to the Welsh capital, where Glamorgan Wanderers' Ely Memorial was playable but badly cut-up from Saturday's club match against Ebbw Vale.

Even when the two clubs arrived, doubts persisted - with a frosted covering on a soft under-surface right along one touchline in front of the covered enclosure. But, with the sun beating down, the decision to play was made in sufficient time for a 1pm kick-off that still allowed Ayr to play the game and then make their scheduled 4pm return flight to Scotland.

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The Scottish Cup holders might have wished they'd flown home early as a poor kick-off reception was punished by a Ponty surge which ended with Gareth Wyatt taking a great lay-off from Darren Waters for the opening try in only 31 seconds. But from the re-start the Ayr pack rumbled to the Ponty line, driving the Welsh eight back with a couple of terrific mauling drives, from the second of which skipper Damien Kelly charged over.

Neither try was converted, but Ayr went in front in 23 minutes when Ponty's backs fumbled on their own ten metres line, Mark Bennett kicked through, Cammy Taylor picked up and scorched away for a try between the posts, converted by Frazier Climo.

Ayr, their pack bolstered by Hawks' lock Nick Campbell, had perhaps the better of the remaining first half, but the only other score came from the Welsh, Dean Gunter kicking a penalty after Grant Anderson's high tackle on centre Adam Thomas.

Ponty coach Dale McIntosh's half-time rant was clearly heard by most of the crowd, but it paid dividends as the Welsh side took control from the re-start. Two Gunter penalties, the second, in 57 minutes, after Andy Dunlop was yellow-carded, saw Ponty edge ahead.

McIntosh also bolstered his pack with three well-timed changes, introducing some of his more experienced men, but their efforts to extend their lead repeatedly foundered on superb Ayr tackling, before replacement fly-half Simon Humberstone's diagonal to the corner was plucked out of the air by Owen Williams, for replacement Kristian Baller, on the park less than a minute, to dive over for a try. Humberstone converted to put clear daylight between the sides, with 12 minutes left.

The Welsh Premiership leaders continued to pound the Ayr line, but the visitors held out until the final minute, when Ponty's scrummage pressure was rewarded with a penalty try, converted by Humberstone.

Still Pontypridd weren't satisfied, and in injury time they scored another try, Adam Thomas completing a superb counter-attack, initiated by Alan Williams' run up the right and some slick handling. Thomas burst through the Ayr 22 and touched down, Humberstone missing the extras.

Those final two Ponty tries were also helped by Ayr again being down to 14 men, Glenn Tippett the man pinged, and the Ayr veteran was still at a loss to explain his dismissal well after the final whistle.

"We were in a difficult situation, with all the uncertainty about the venue and even if the game would be played, which didn't help," said Ayr coach Kenny Murray. "We did have a good first half, but their experience told in the second, once their more experienced forwards were introduced."

Opposite number McIntosh, the former Scotland B flanker paid tribute to Ayr.

"A big, tough side," he said, adding: "I'm chuffed to bits with the win and the way we raised our game after a disappointing first half. The uncertainty about whether or not we would play unsettled both sides, and while I'm pleased with the win, in truth, it could have gone either way."

Scorers: Pontypridd - Tries: Wyatt, Baller. Penalty Try: A Thomas. Conversions: Humberstone (2). Penalty goals: Gunter (2), Humberstone. Ayr - Tries: D Kelly, Taylor. Con: Climo.

Pontypridd: Wyatt (Baller); A Williams, A Thomas, Lockyer, O Williams; Gunter (Humberstone), L Jones; Smout (S Williams), Hetherington (Dowden), Knaggs, Locke, Dicomidis, J Thomas (Siggery), Waters, Sheppeard (Hill). Sub not used: Clayton.

Ayr: Anderson; Ferguson (Steele), Bennett R McCallum), Curle, Fergusson; Climo, McFarlane; Reid, Fenwick (Adair), A Kelly, D Kelly, Campbell, Crossan (P McCallum), Colhoun, Dunlop (Tippett). Subs not used: Hunter, Beckwith.

Referee: M Tutty

Attendance: 1026