Apr 20 2012 Ayrshire Post (main ed)
HERE we go again!
It’s out with the pink caps, the pink and black tee-shirts and whatever fancy dress you can come up with to get behind Ayr at Murrayfield on Saturday as they go for a record breaking third Premier Cup win in succession, writes Ron Evans.
It has been a roller coaster of a season with highs and lows in the league campaign, some memorable results in the British and Irish Cup and now to finish off, the chance to make amends for the defeat which cost so dear against Gala at Millbrae a few weeks ago.
Speaking of the British and Irish Cup. The finalists are Cross Keys and Munster, both of whom were in Ayr's group.
And who will forget Tralee, where, in the final minutes, the referee denied Ayr what would have been an extraordinary result.
But that is in the past and Saturday is when it will matter, when Ayr will have to come up with one final effort to thwart a Gala side determined to get their name on the cup for the first time since 1999 when they beat Kelso 8-3 thanks to a stunning try by a slip of a youngster by the name of Chris Paterson.
Coach Kenny Murray was in pensive mood when I caught up with him at the weekend.
Murray admitted: “There is no doubt that it has not been our best season in the league, finishing outside the top three and not qualifying for the British and Irish Cup has been a huge disappointment, particularly since we had the best results of the Scottish sides in the competition.
“However, we have done well to get to the final and to win again would bring a fine end to what has been a long hard season.
“The chance to create a bit of Scottish rugby history as the only team to win the cup three seasons in a row and therefore to have won a major trophy in each of the past four seasons is a massive incentive and the team realise just what they have to do.
“I feel that the performances against Boroughmuir in the semi-final and in our final league match against Aberdeen have got us in the right frame of mind for going into Saturday's match.
“The pack has been going well as we saw when we closed the game down against Boroughmuir in the final 10 minutes and against Aberdeen the backs showed some really great touches when we played a wide game so I think we are pretty well prepared.”
Ayr beat Gala at Netherdale early in the season and although they deserved the win at Millbrae after being gifted some soft tries, Murray feels this is the chance to show that they are a better side than that.
He added: “It will be a really physical game but we have everybody fit which at this time of the season is something that we have to be grateful for.
“Our kicking game has been our achilles heel and we will have to improve on that at Murrayfield but we have been working on that and with a full squad to choose from, we are raring to go.
“The cup final is not just a game – it is an experience and one that not a lot of players are lucky enough to encounter in their playing career.
“The whole day is something fabulous, full of memories which will stay with you always and that, along with the chance of achieving something unique, is a great spur for the side.”
One thing is for sure, there will be a huge Gala support for the Maroons at Murrayfield and the impact the Ayr fans have made on the last two finals was something skipper Mark Stewart touched on.
Stewart admitted: “It is not going to be easy against a side who are going well but the week off has helped get over some of the bumps and bruises and freshened the boys up.
“We know already a lot of our fans are getting excited and planning different things for finals day and we are determined not to let them down. Seeing that mass of pink and black in the stand was something really special.
“Gala are a good all round side and we have to be aware of their kicking game. Our back three need to be on their toes to make sure that they don't get us on the back foot and we need to make our kicks tell a bit more than they did in some of our games this season.
“What do we need to do to win? Defence wins games and then taking every opportunity which comes our way and if we can do that then we stand a good chance of getting Ayr into the history books.”
Defence and taking chances in a one off game will undoubtedly be the key as those who played in or witnessed the embattled defence in the closing stages of last year’s final against Melrose will know what is required (I still get a shiver down my back when I read that 25-21 scoreline). It’s that spirit and having had that experience which might just tip the scales for Ayr.
Director of Rugby Jock Craig expressed his pride in the side.
He said: “To be in a position where the club could make history with a win over Gala is a tremendous achievement. If the team can manage that then there is no doubt that it will make up for some of the disappointment we have had in what has been a transitional season for the club.
“If everyone plays to his potential, there is no doubt that we can lift the cup for the third time in a row and that is what the team have to do because Gala will be just as determined to get their hands on the trophy.
“I hope that the pride that the team has in the jersey will bring out the best on the day.”
The sides know each other and respect each other too much for any further meaningful speculation. The prize will go the team who wants it most.
The added incentive of becoming a club unique in the annals of Scottish rugby will hopefully be enough to see the Premier Cup nestling back in the trophy cabinet at Millbrae after 5.30pm on Saturday.