Melrose will be gunning for their tenth league title since the official championship was launched in 1973, Ayr only their third, but the men from the west will have no inferiority complex when they run out on to the Greenyards pitch in the BT Premiership final this afternoon.
As one of only two teams to beat the Borderers this season, Heriot’s being the other, Ayr coach Calum Forrester believes his side are “in a good place” to add another Scottish league crown to the club’s honour board following their successes of 2009 and 2013.
After coming heartbreakingly close last year, when the Goldenacre side pipped them at the death on their Millbrae patch, Forrester believes that the squad he takes into this season’s final, albeit on away turf in front of what is expected to be a big and vocal home crowd, has the maturity to take that extra step to glory.
“Last year was obviously hugely disappointing but it’s much the same group of players we are working with this season,” said the coach.
“I’d like to think we have learned lessons. Last season we won the league semi-final but lost the cup one, this year we have backed up with two semi-final wins. The group is now a year older and when I was comparing my semi-final teams from last season to this there were only three changes in the starting line-up.
“It’s good to have that continuity and I think that’s shown this season with some really pleasing and mature performances.”
The two teams will meet again at neutral BT Murrayfield next Saturday in the BT Cup final but today’s encounter will break the 1-1 deadlock that exists between the two until this stage with a couple of home wins apiece in the regular season. Ayr edged Melrose 11-7 at Millbrae back in September.
“When we played down there earlier in the season it was a very close game until discipline let us down late on,” recalled Forrester of the 27-10 loss in the December return. “You can’t go down to the Greenyards and finish the game with 13 on the pitch.
“Discipline is going to be key tomorrow and the breakdown but, ultimately, it is the two best set-pieces in the league going head to head. It will be vital to get that dominance up front and let some very exciting backs on both teams play.”
Discipline is the reason behind Ayr’s only change today, with Stafford McDowall at centre in place of the suspended Ross Curle, whose red card late in the semi-final win over Glasgow Hawks cost him a two-week suspension which means he misses this weekend but will be available for the cup final.
“It’s been a good week,” added Forrester. “The boys were in a good place at training on Thursday. This is the stage of the season everyone wants to be involved and everyone is looking forward to it.
“Melrose obviously have that home advantage, it will be a good crowd, we’re taking a good contingent down too, but we just have to focus on things we can control. We’ll get down there, get our preparation right and look to take all those external factors out of the equation.”
Melrose also make one change, Craig Jackson in at inside centre and Edinburgh pros Nick Beavon and George Taylor on the bench.
Greenyards coach Rob Chrystie said: “Ayr, as always, will be well prepared by Calum and his team for this deciding game. They have shown over the course of the season they have the ability to score in a number of ways and their defence is always a challenge to break.
“We have prepared well this week and understand what is required when playing in these type of games. With a huge crowd expected everyone is excited to get started in what is sure to be another Melrose-Ayr cracker.”
Melrose club captain Bruce Colvine again starts on the bench, with Murdo McAndrew at scrum-half, and Grant Runciman will lead the home team from the start.
Colvine said: “Both teams always give it all when we face off and we’ve had some good old ding-dongs in the past few seasons. I expect Saturday to be no different. It’s one each so far this season. It’s always nice to have home advantage but on the field it will be purely about the game.”