Mar 30 2012 by Mike WIlson, Ayrshire Post (main ed)
Gala defeat means Ayr Rugby Club miss British and Irish Cup
IT was perfect day for a game. The spring sunshine provided the setting, ladies day the glamour and a big crowd the buzz as they prepared for a crucial RBS Premier ‘A’ match.
The one thing which wasn't perfect from an Ayr point of view was the result as the side misfired as often as the clock in the corner of the pitch which showed an alarming propensity for getting it wrong.
Much like the team on the field in fact, writes Ron Evans.
Ayr saw their chances of a place in next season’s British and Irish Cup vanish in a game which for neutrals and Gala supporters had everything but which for home fans had nothing but a lingering sense of doom.
Both sides came into this match off big wins but it was Gala who continued the way they left off after disposing of Melrose at Netherdale while Ayr could never recapture the quality of game which was so impressive against Currie at Malleny Park
Gala could hardly have got out of the blocks more quickly, a penalty from Lee Miller getting them on the board inside two minutes.
Ayr had a couple of early forays but it was the visitors who upped the pressure, Craig Robertson and Gavin Young almost over and after pinching a home throw, they set up the position for Miller's second successful penalty.
When the Gala No10 banged over his third penalty in 20 minutes, it was no more than Gala deserved having dominated possession and territory and their first try when it came four minutes later was simplicity itself.
Euan Dods snaffled a line-out close to Ayr line and the home pack
obligingly left a huge gap for scrum-half George Graham to scoot through for the score.
Prior to that score Ayr had been on the wrong end of a decision at the other end of the pitch when a move which looked likely to produce a try was halted by a forward pass seen only by referee Andy McPherson. From the scrum, Gala waltzed downfield and grabbed the opening try.
Turning point number one.
Miller converted and on the half hour, a huge Gala drive with Opeta Palepoi at the heart let Graham take the ball on, jink and put Dods over for the visitors’ second try
It was at this point that one observer noted that Gala, and the referee, had an interesting interpretation of what constituted offside at the breakdown and even more concerning, very inventive obstruction as the ball was being moved wide.
Ayr looked totally out of sorts but how much of that was down to a fear of incurring the referee's displeasure thus allowing Miller more shots at goal and how much was down to some outstandingly cohesive Gala play is debatable but nevertheless, Miller struck yet again four minutes from the break.
The Gala defence held out against a series of Ayr thrusts until lock Colin White spotted a gap and dived over in the corner just on the half mark but Andy Wilson's kick was wide.
Ayr's reluctance to take penalties at goal and poor kicking from hand was a feature of a first-half which ended with the home side's body language telling its own story.
Four minutes into the second half, Robertson swooped in after some silky Gala handling, Miller again obliged and at 30-5, it looked all over.
Ayr have been here before, though, and struck back with tries from Scott Sutherland in the 48th and Gordon Reid in the 50th minute and suddenly there was a hint of a comeback, not that anyone in the press box was quite at the stage of looking up the spelling of Lazarus.
Ayr were on the scent of a third try when, after a fracas behind the Gala line the touch judge put in his tuppenceworth and advised the referee, who was much close to the stramash, of what he reckoned had happened and as a result Reid was red-carded.
Turning point number two
It would be unfair to say it let Gala off the hook but they took fulladvantage as George Graham scampered away from a ruck 30 metres out to score the bonus clinching try.
Gregor Hunter, on for Miller, converted that one and took Gala to the 40 point mark with a penalty eight minutes from time. Ayr continued to give it their all but a penalty try, ironically for obstruction on Ross Curle as he chased a chip ahead, and a late strike from Murray McConnell was no consolation whatsoever.
Disappointed home coach Kenny Murray admitted: “If you don't perform in the big games then you will struggle as we have found out.
“A lot of 50:50 calls didn't go our way but I have to admit that we were very sluggish in the first-half and didn't take our chances. We couldn't keep the ball for long enough and the penalties really put us on the back foot.
“Their kicking from hand as well was excellent and kept us under pressure and we couldn't match that. We were lethargic in attack and because we got very little front foot ball we were unable to ask many questions of their defence.
“All credit to Gala, they played very well and capitalised on our mistakes.
“It is a huge disappointment not to be in the British and Irish Cup but you have to earn the right to be there and this season we didn't earn it.
“It is a very big blow for the club in prestige terms as well as the financial implication of not hosting big cross border matches at Millbrae and we considered it vital to be able to keep playing at that level of the game as well as attracting the sort of player who wanted to be involved.
“There is a chance for the side to make amends against Boroughmuir on Saturday and at least give our fans something to cheer about at Murrayfield so now we have to focus on that.”
Director of Rugby Jock Craig had one terse comment. “A massive let-down.”
So with chances of a top four finish now impossible, Ayr entertain Boroughmuir in the semi-final of the RBS Cup at Millbrae on Saturday at 3pm.
The Meggetland outfit, having beaten Ayr on their own patch a few weeks ago and sensing the impact the Gala defeat will have on them, will scent blood.