Ayr answered their critics in the most emphatic way by winning this top-of-the-table clash with a bonus point victory that hoists the Millbrae side to the apex of the Tennent’s Premiership.
Both teams deserve plaudits for playing in what were truly dreadful conditions of severe cold, heavy rain and to cap it all, dim light which was bad enough at kick-off time but which by the final whistle would have tested even the most carrot-assisted eyesight .
“We’ve had a few difficult weeks and pretty well everyone had written us off,” said Peter Murchie, the Ayr coach. “But the boys did very well today. We came here very determined.”
Ayr won the forward battle and significantly were able to contain the Melrose maul and moreover use this same weapon against the home team. Behind the scrum, stand-off Frazier Climo delivered a masterful performance, controlling the game adroitly, in addition to scoring two tries and kicking 12 points.
Outside Climo Paddy Kelly, on release from Glasgow Warriors, showed how much progress he has made as a professional while on the wings Kyle Rowe and Paddy Dewhirst looked sharp.
For Melrose this was a game when a lot went wrong. The loss of hooker Russell Anderson to what looked like a neck injury was a blow to Melrose but even so the Ayr pack by that early stage in the game were already gaining control.
“Too many individual mistakes and when you do that against a team that’s desperate you get punished,” admitted Rob Chrystie, the Melrose coach. “They’ve been in a dark place in the last couple of weeks and they deserved their win.”
Anderson’s replacement Richard Ferguson gave Melrose an early lead with a try from a driving maul but the missed conversion by Struan Hutchison foretold potential misery for Melrose, confirmed when Ayr grabbed six points from two Climo penalties and then two tries.
The first came from a clever kick by Danny McCluskey that put Fraser Thomson in difficulty on his own line and when the ball was ripped from the full-back, Dewhirst flopped over for a try.
Then after a series of forward drives Ayr moved the ball wide for Climo to score and convert for an 18-5 half time lead.
After the break, second-half substitute George Taylor set up an unconverted try for Patrick Anderson only for Pat MacArthur to reply for Ayr with a maul try converted by Climo.
Replacement Iain Sim brought Melrose back into the game with a try but Ayr finished strongly, Grant Anderson seizing possession from a spilled pass to trigger a move that ended with Climo scoring his second try, the stand-off’s conversion sealing a deserved win.