Any notion that the BT Premiership title is Melrose’s for the asking was surely dispelled by Ayr’s victory in this ferocious contest on Saturday.
The defending champions may have fallen below their best at times this season, but on the evidence of this narrow but deserved semi-final win over Currie Chieftains, they are hitting top form at exactly the right time.
Calum Forrester’s squad may only have finished third at the end of the regular campaign, but they will travel to the Greenyards for the Grand Final in 12 days’ time with their confidence high.
They won at the same venue in last season’s final and they also emerged victorious when they went there on league business in January, winning 20-12.
It seems that the bigger the game, the better Ayr respond, and Forrester, pictured, is sure that his players will be up for the battle.
“We don’t have a huge turnover of players,” said the head coach, who will take charge of the team for the last time against Melrose.
“The two or three guys that we’ve brought in this season – it will be new to them going down there and playing in a final, but we can count on the experience of players like Grant Anderson at full-back, Frazier Climo and some of the more experienced members of the pack.
“Guys like Blair Macpherson and Pete McCallum who have been there and done it and performed well for us in these scenarios. It’s an environment that we certainly thrive on. We’re not going to give up this title too easily.”
Macpherson and McCallum were certainly to the fore as Ayr’s forwards steadily got the better of the contest against the Chieftains. The home team led 21-3 late in the first half thanks to tries by Mike Vernel, Richie Vernon and Thomas Gordon, all converted by Jamie Forbes, but crucially Ayr hit back before the break through Steven Longwell.
Scott Lyle’s conversion, added to his earlier penalty, made it 21-10 at half-time, and with the wind behind them in the second half the visitors gradually got on top, Robin Hislop and Lewis Anderson getting the crucial tries and Lyle adding the two points each time. Vernon was red-carded late on for a dangerous tackle, but by then the game already looked beyond Currie.
“The club’s in a good place, there’s no doubt about that, but it goes down as a disappointing season because we’ve not won anything,” was the verdict of Chieftains head coach Ben Cairns.
“The group that we’ve got should be winning things. Two of those guys have gone pro straight out of Currie – Luke Crosbie and Charlie Shiel – and I’d expect another two, three, four to go pro in the next couple of years as well.
“So that’s great for the club. We need to keep that conveyor belt going.”
Currie certainly have the strength to contend for honours again next season and Cairns confirmed that they hope to be included in the Super 6 when it begins the season after that.
“Definitely,” he added. “This club’s ambition is always to be at the top of Scottish rugby, so we need to be part of Super 6.”