After a 12-match winning sequence in the BT Premiership, Melrose finally showed they are not invincible, succumbing to a strong Ayr team determined to remind rugby followers that they are still the reigning champions.
In a tense match visitors Ayr overcame losing their captain Peter McCallum to injury and then collecting two yellow cards in the space of five first-half minutes. But by dominating the set scrum, sticking to a tight game plan and working their pink and black socks off in covering every inch of the field, Ayr were worthy winners.
“We were very disappointed with our defeat just before Christmas [against Currie] and today we asked for a real work rate and effort across the park,” said the Ayr coach, Calum Forrester.
Ayr might have felt short-changed when they won four penalties from four successive set scrums close to the Melrose line in the second half only for referee, Keith Allen, to resist calls for a penalty try.
The relentlessness of Ayr’s defence and the strength of their forwards prevented Melrose from playing the high-tempo running game that their fans now expect at the Greenyards and has enabled the Borderers to collect a try bonus point in each of their previous 12 games.
“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,” admitted Rob Chrystie, the Melrose coach.
When Ayr’s dominant scrum extracted a penalty, Scott Lyle kicked to corner and from the line-out Ayr drove the maul for prop Steve Longwell to crash over for a try converted by Lyle.
Then after Ayr had lost McCallum to injury and then Grant Anderson to the sin-bin, Melrose, who had threatened with expansive rugby, struck with a try by George Taylor converted from the touchline by Craig Jackson to level the scores.
Already down to 14 men Ayr were further reduced when Jonny Agnew was yellow carded after tackling an opponent off the ball. Melrose kicked to the corner and two mauls later replacement hooker Richard Ferguson touched down in the corner. But just before half-time a penalty goal by Lyle brought his side back within two points of Melrose.
In a torrid third quarter Melrose were put under the scrummaging cosh but somehow managed not to concede a score. Then when Fraser Thomson fielded a David Armstrong kick in his own 22m and then tried to chip the on-running defence, the ball fell into the hands of Craig Gossman who sent lock Rob McAlpine on a try-scoring run.
Lyle converted and then added a penalty goal to seal victory and deny Melrose a bonus point, for the first time this season.