Melrose were given a stark reminder that past performances do not in themselves guarantee future returns after the runaway championship leaders’ 12-match winning streak was brought to an end by the title holders, Ayr.
Remarkably, Ayr achieved their win despite the injury-enforced departure of their captain, Pete McCallum, and then yellow cards shown to full-back Grant Anderson and McCallum’s replacement, Jonny Agnew, in the space of five minutes – not enough, however, to blow Ayr’s game plan off course.
“From one to 15 everyone stepped up a gear. We’ve talked about an 80-minute performance and I felt that today it was there. We know how important this January window is for us. This is the way we wanted to start it and hopefully we can build on it,” said McCallum, pictured, after watching much of the match from the sideline.
Impressive for Ayr was their teenage trio of centre Matt Davidson, who was making his Premiership debut appearance, wing Paddy Dewhirst and centre Stafford McDowall.
Along with hooker Robbie Smith all will be contenders for the Scotland under-20 side this season.
For Melrose, this defeat will certainly be the antidote to any complacency that might have resulted from the Borderers’ pre-Christmas string of wins and will undoubtedly refocus minds at the Greenyards, where the memory of losing the title in the play-offs last season is still raw.
What must be worrying for Melrose is that the precision rugby they played in the first 12 rounds of the championship was missing.
“We weren’t as clinical as we have been in the last few months, so we have to look at that and be honest with ourselves. We had opportunities in the first half but we weren’t accurate enough. They dug in and put a lot of pressure on us and came hard at us in the defensive line,” said the Melrose coach, Rob Chrystie, adding: “Trophies aren’t handed out in January – it’s April that matters.”
An Ayr victory looked uncertain at the break when Melrose, playing their trademark expansive game, led 12-10 from tries by George Taylor and Richard Ferguson, both scored when the visitors were short handed, and a conversion by Craig Jackson.
After the interval, Ayr, who had scored a first-half try through prop Steve Longwell and the conversion and a penalty by Scott Lyle, took ownership of the set scrum and were perhaps unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty try. It was not needed, however, as a converted try from second-row Rob McAlpine and then a penalty by Lyle secured victory and, in the process, denied Melrose, for the first time this season, a bonus point.