BOTH sides took a break from their respective ambitions to tilt for a place in the quarter-finals of the BT Scottish Cup and there was to be no surprise, with Ayr running out worthy winners but Hamilton showing they were not there just to be shot down.
Scorers: Hamilton. Tries: Turnbull, Skilling, Hill. Cons: McLeish (2). Ayr. Tries: Gossman (2), Fergusson, Dalgleish, McAlpine, McCallum, McPherson, Armstrong. Cons: Lowe (5).
For Hamilton, currently second in National League 2 behind Howe of Fife and with a game in hand, there was drama in the warm-up. Regular centre David Lopez had already had to withdraw, so Stuart Whitelaw stepped up from the bench only to injure himself in the pre-match preparations. As a result it was David Dechar’s turn to prepare to start against the Premiership side who last won the cup two seasons ago, and Liam Bell came on to the bench for his tilt at glory.
Premiership Ayr are currently second behind Melrose and looking good for a top-four place with its spot in the play-offs. Coach Calum Forrester had made changes, particularly in the backs with Robbie Fergusson making his first start of the season at outside centre. No.10 Gavin Lowe was back from Scotland Sevens duty in Dubai while No.8 Pete McCallum was making his return after a frustrating injury spell.
Before the game kicked off there was a minute’s silence for former Ayr member Richard Logg who was recently killed in a car crash. Then Ayr kicked off into the January sun that lit up perfect conditions.
It took the visitors only three minutes to take the lead. Lowe chipped through for full-back Craig Gossman to beat Hamilton’s Craig Skilling in the chase for the try that Lowe converted.
Ayr looked ready to dominate, but settled by a good tackle from Scott Alexander, Hamilton, with No.10 Owen McLeish using possession well, equalised in the 12th minute.
A hack to the line produced a scrum five and from it scrum half Steve Turnbull arced in at the corner with McLeish converting,
Ayr got back ahead in 24 minutes. When the home defence held out on the left, the ball was moved swiftly right for Gossman to touch down untouched with Lowe converting.
Three minutes later centre Richard Fergusson was crossing, the ball having been run back after Turnbull had kicked long.
But Hamilton immediately hit back. Ayr were penalised at the restart and then at the subsequent lineout. A tap penalty took play to the posts, with winger Skilling scoring and McLeish converting to cut Ayr’s lead to 19-14.
However in the last ten minutes of the half, as Hamilton looked tired, Ayr picked up two unconverted touchdowns from winger Richard Dalgleish and former Edinburgh pro lock Robert McAlpine, to let the Premiership side go in leading 29-14.
From the restart Hamilton looked to fire back. However a swift handling move involving Alexander, Skilling and Andrew Hill broke down when Kyle Richmond let the ball loose with the line begging.
Ayr showed their forward power driving a scrum for No.8 Peter McCallum to pick up and go over with Lowe converting. However Hamilton were then to show their own pack power for their third try. A penalty gave them position close to the Ayr line from where Richmond took the lineout ball before the pack drove over, with Hill touching down.
The run-in was not as easy as Ayr had anticipated, with passes going forward and a penalty awarded by referee Dunky McCallum for chatting back.
However, Hamilton could make nothing of the pressure. Ayr, though, picked up two more tries, through Blair McPherson and scrum-half David Armstrong, with Lowe converting both.
Ayr coach Calum Forrester was happy with the win but not totally pleased with the performance.
He said: “We scored a number of good tries but the disappointing thing was the number of tries we conceded. And to give away a try from a driving lineout was unacceptable.”
Assistant Hamilton coach Steve Anderson commented: “Ayr were clinical, professional and very physical. When they got into the final third they came away with points.
“However our boys did themselves proud. When they got the ball they looked dangerous, which took Ayr by surprise.”
Hamilton: S Whiteside; C Skilling, S Whitelaw, David Deuchar, M Kennedy; O McLeish, S Turnbull; J Kippenberger, B Leonard, G Richardson, F Dunnachie, J McKee, S Alexander, B Wilson, A Hill (c). Subs: C McLaughlin, D McGrath, K Richmond, C Brown, D Deuchar.
Ayr: C Gossman, R Dalgleish, R Fergusson, D Kelbrick (c), C Taylor; G Lowe, D Armstrong; S Fenwick, J Malcolm, F Watt, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, G Fisken, A Dunlop, P McCallum. Subs: F Scott, G Hunter, B MacPherson, W Bordill, M Beckwith.
Referee: D McClement.