Jan 20 2012 by Mike WIlson, Ayrshire Post (main ed)
WATCHING this team puts years on you, grumbled one Ayr fan.
Albeit he had a smile on his face as again the men in pink and black had teased their supporters until, as they had done in their last home game against Bristol, they delivered the goods in the twilight zone (writes Ron Evans).
It wasn't as long to wait for revenge this time. The win over Bristol to avenge last season’s British and Irish Cup defeat was almost a year in coming around but getting their own back on Stirling took Ayr a matter of a couple of months although in actual league game terms, no time at all.
The Bridgehaugh men arrived at Millbrae with bragging rights having won the final RBS Premier One encounter last November when Ayr put in a miserable performance but the opening match of the Premier ‘A’ title run-in was a different game entirely.
Mind you, Stirling did pose a real threat and there were times when it looked as if Ayr's advantage of having their two opening matches in the run-in at Millbrae was about to vanish but they turned things round and grabbed what looked highly improbable at times, an invaluable bonus point.
It came down to focus, guts and no little skill by Kenny Murray's troops who went behind after only 11 minutes when the ever dangerous Danny Gilmour skipped through off a Benji Bersanti offload for Stirling's first – and only – try. Stuart Edwards had missed with a sixth minute penalty but sank the conversion but going behind so early sparked an urgency into the Ayr play.
They chose to put a kickable penalty into touch five metres from the Stirling line, a drive on Scott Sutherland's take took them close and there was no stopping Rob Colhoun as the flanker drove over.
Robbie Ferguson missed the conversion but made no mistake in 25 minutes when he potted the penalty after Robert McAlpine was binned. Ayr piled on the pressure but the chance was lost with a crooked throw at a five metre line out, Stirling broke away and a promising attack came to a halt only with a fortunate, for Ayr, knock on.
Ayr sharpened up their handling, Grant Anderson and Cammy Taylor almost unpicked the Stirling defence but Taylor was adjudged to have put a foot in touch so the margin at the break was as tight as it could be at 8-7.
Stirling looked the friskier into the second half and Edwards put them back into the lead with a penalty but his miss with another pot at goal three minutes later proved crucial as Ayr swept back downfield, Sutherland made the hard yards, John Willis was in support and a superb offload saw Anderson power over in the corner.
A couple of decisions went against Ayr as referee Gary Gordon called the scrum to Ayr when advantage was on then Willis and Colhoun expressed their disquiet that the official’s interpretation didn't concur with theirs.
He prevailed of course and Edwards plonked over the penalty to tie the scores with 24 minutes remaining. Things hotted up in the final quarter, Willis pulling off a try saver on full back Craig Robertson, Hayden Wisnewski was binned rather harshly, Stirling were over but adjudged to have been held up (in a moment of exasperation, the ref seemed to be calling for the TMO!), then Mark Stewart put in a huge hit on Gilmour, Taylor broke away and the pressure was off.
That was the turning point with Ayr sensing, as they had a few weeks ago against Bristol, that the opposition had shot their bolt and turned the screw. Anderson almost went over in the left corner, play came back to midfield, Ayr started to put the phases together and with nine minutes left, Fergusson spotted the tiniest of gaps and skipped through for a beauty but again failed with the conversion.
With five minutes on the clock, Ross Curle hit a heartbreaker of a kick to the corner, man of the match Gordon Sykes ploughed through the defence and with Stirling penalised consistently at the scrums, Ayr repeatedly asked for the re-set until the referee had no option but to award a penalty try which Fergusson duly converted with the last kick of the game.
Ayr can certainly take a lot from what was always going to be one of their biggest tests, of discipline if nothing else. Defensively they were secure round the fringes and in midfield against a Stirling attack capable of pulling the best defence out of shape, they gave very little away
The set piece was solid enough and the way the scrum upped the ante in the final minutes was a joy to watch. Ayr have experts in controlling the contact area although Messrs Willis, Colhoun and Dunlop may on occasion appear to be working from a different law book than the ref but perhaps Ayr's biggest failing at the moment is consistency in kicking, both from hand and for points and until that is resolved, they will find themselves under needless pressure both on the field and on the scoreboard.
Coach Murray claimed: “It went exactly the way I thought it would because these are two good sides with not a lot between them. When you remember that before the break, they beat Currie, Melrose and ourselves on the bounce, you could see the quality we were up against.
“However, there was a big incentive for us to get a result after the way we played at Bridgehaugh. We had a great final 15 minutes when we got ourselves into good positions and took advantage of that and it was good to see the team’s focus right to the end which earned us the penalty try.
“There are areas we have to tighten up on in terms of speeding up our game and not putting ourselves under pressure but a bonus point in the opener for the run-in for the title is as good as we could ask for.
“Don't be kidded, Stirling will have a big part to play in the closing matches of the championship and no one will relish going to face what is a very good team at Bridgehaugh.”
Before the break, Ayr 2nds had beaten Melrose and Currie on the trot but had been out of action since the Currie game on December 3. They stayed in the groove on Saturday for their first match of 2012 and came up with a 47-8 win over Hillhead Jordanhill to move up to seventh spot in Reserve League National One.
Millbrae, too, shook the tinsel out of their boots to pull off a 34-5 win at Cumnock with tries from Steven Lynch, Evan Potter, Matt Potter, Martin Hastings and a David Courtney double with Courtney and Evan Potter claiming a conversion apiece.
Ayr find themselves idle again this weekend since Dalziel and Dumfries have still to play their cup tie with the winner facing Ayr so the next competitive outing will be against Aberdeen Grammar Rugby, who dumped title hopefuls Gala at Rubislaw on Saturday, at Millbrae on January 28.