May 11 2012 Ayrshire Post (main ed)
Ayr Rugby Club reflect on a disappointing season
THERE are many clubs in Scotland, some founder members of the SRU, who, if offered sixth spot in Premier One, three points from a British and Irish Cup spot, a place in the RBS Cup final and by far the best record of a Scots side in the British and Irish Cup, would have bitten your arm off up to your shoulder.
But despite having achieved that, for Ayr it was a season unfulfilled, a season which, by their own recent standards, has to rank as disappointing and yet in which they came frustratingly close, writes Ron Evans.
So what was different this time around from the previous three seasons which have seen major trophies end up in the Millbrae cabinet?
From the start there was the urgent need to replace players of the calibre of Damien Kelly, Gordon Reid, Glen Tippett and Mark Bennett as well as squad men Dean Stewart, Paul Burke, Stephen Adair and Dougie Steele with Rob Colhoun out until mid-October and the man around whom the pack was to be built, Nick Cox, coming back from a year out with injury only to have to take medical advice and sadly retire completely.
A big ask for any club but Ayr thought they had solved part of the problem with the arrival of Nick Elrick to take on the No10 jersey releasing Robbie Fergusson and Ross Curle to vie for the centre berths alongside Mark Stewart.
The Kiwi stand-off proved to be out of his depth and left after five weeks and that gap in a crucial position was never adequately filled for the rest of the season.
Josh Dunning seemed a worthy replacement for fellow Aussie Kelly at lock but a history of injury caught up with him and he too left.
Although Colin White did a sterling job alongside Scott Sutherland in the boiler house of the scrum and despite the excellent additions of flanker Jono Willis and prop Denford Mutamangira during the season, there was always a feeling of the team being less than settled and players doing a job out of position which had a weakening effect on the side.
The pack, on form, was a match for almost anyone in Premier One but all too often their efforts were let down by a back division which fired with alarming infrequency with Curle and Fergusson taking on the No10 role without bringing the authority to the position it requires although having been asked to play out of position, they showed remarkable footballing skills to even make a decent fist of it.
The defensive record was adequate but the inability to build up a level of points scored and a lack of league bonus points was to prove their downfall.
No one took on the kicking role with any real authority and when wing Andy Wilson looked to have improbably solved the problem, again inconsistency was the downfall. The final league match against Aberdeen illustrated that perfectly, eight tries and two conversions.
The season is a sad tale of matches which, if not won, could have had a bonus point salvaged had anyone been able to ping over the kicks consistently and only a tantalising three more bonus points could have clinched that fourth spot and the B & I Cup place.
Club president Billy McHarg reflected: “The season was full of highs and lows and it was at times very frustrating. We took some decisions which didn't work and that didn't help things on the field and our recruiting was not as good as it has been in previous seasons particularly with so many players having moved on.
“The clubs who have been successful this season have had a genuine No 10 and that is something which has been a problem for us all the way through.
“My biggest disappointment was the fact that Nick Cox had to retire on medical advice. He would have brought stability to the pack which we needed.
“We will go into next season in a positive frame of mind because as the only side in the west of Scotland who are in the Premier Division, players will want to play at Ayr.
“However, we will have to look at the budget but we would hope to live up to what is expected from us although here is no doubt that the financial situation will have a bearing on what we are able to do.
“Probably the most exciting thing to look forward to is the young players coming through at Millbrae. Blair McPherson has already played for the top side, Peter McCallum has been on the fringe of a top team place and in youngster Danny McCluskey we have a player who shows great promise.”
Director of Rugby Jock Craig looked back at where it might have gone wrong.
He said: “We didn't have the strength in depth to be successful in the three competitions we were in and there is no doubt that playing in the B & I Cup as well as putting in a challenge for the league and the cup took its toll.
“Our first aim was to get a top eight place before the split thereby ensuring Premier rugby next season but after we did that, maybe we got a bit greedy, there was certainly inconsistency in our performances.
“You only have to look at how we played against Currie to clinch a huge win which kept us in the mix only to lose badly at home to Gala the following week which denied us the chance of a top three place.
“Perhaps there was a hint of complacency as well after the success of the previous seasons but even this time around we have had success which other clubs who have fallen behind can only envy.
“Probably the most galling thing is that we came so close in the end to getting into the top three but in the coming season we will have to re-group, re-build and aim for the success which has come to be expected at Millbrae.”