Aug 3 2012 Ayrshire Post (main ed)
AYR Rugby Club have bade farewell to two more stalwarts – AJ MacFarlane and Mark Stewart – who have moved on after giving sterling service.
AJ came to Ayr in 2005 and soon made the No9 jersey his own. Over the course of seven seasons, he became one of the most highly regarded scrum halfs in the country, writes Ron Evans.
MacFarlane was a crucial part of the championship winning side and collected back to back cup winners’ medals. His ability was recognised when he was capped for the Scotland club International XV.
Coach Kenny Murray praised the nuggety No9 saying: “He was first choice scrum half when I came to Ayr and remained so for a long time. He gave a lot to the club and the success he enjoyed was reflected in our success.
“He was one of the first names down on the team sheet and although we have competition for the scrum half berth now, he made a terrific contribution and we wish him well.”
AJ will be back where it all started for him when he turns out for Hillhead Jordanhill this season.
Hill's Bernie Mitchell said: “We have always been delighted to follow the success AJ has had after moving to play at a higher level and we are very happy to welcome him back to Hughenden. The experience he brings will be invaluable to the club and to our younger players.”
Stewart returned to New Zealand over the summer where a job opportunity and the chance to continue his studies there became available and he has decided that the opportunities are too good to turn down.
Murray said: “The way things have turned out for Mark with job and study opportunities in New Zealand makes it the right time for him to go back. Over the seasons he has been at Ayr he has been a top quality player for us, bringing vast experience and a big physical presence.
“We knew he was a top level player when he came over and we were not disappointed and winning two cup winners’ medals showed just how much he got out of his time at Ayr. That success was in no small measure down to the steadying influence he had on the backs.”
AJ built his reputation at Millbrae, Mark came with one and your correspondent would suggest that both have made a massive contribution to the Ayr cause.
It would be impossible to pinpoint one incident which sums up AJ, simply to say that whenever he was on the pitch, you knew that the opposition were undoubtedly wishing he was with them rather than agin them.
He took some awful knocks, bounced back for more, scored and created some memorable tries and deserved all the plaudits and success he enjoyed in an Ayr jersey.
Mark exuded class as befitted a player who was highly regarded in his home country and his reputation, particularly playing against the British and Irish Lions, preceded him and he didn't disappoint.
Playing outside Frazier Climo with some raw recruits around him in the backs, his experience and skill were invaluable and there are a few players around who will still remember being at the wrong end of a Mark Stewart tackle.
Injury meant he missed a fair part of last season and the fact that his return steadied a slightly faltering ship says a lot about his influence on the side. From the press box, it is case of good luck and thanks for the memories.
Murray added: “Mark will be a loss to the backs but we are very fortunate to have a replacement in Dean Kelbrick who has joined us from Hawks.
“He was a club international last season and is a quality player and although AJ too will be a miss, Peter Jericevich, Sylvain Diez and Murray McConnell will all be battling for the scrum half jersey so there will be real competition.
“We are still waiting to get a full squad out at training for a variety of reasons but things are going well. Denford Mutamangira and Shingi Mpofu are still involved in the Victoria Cup with the Simbas, Colin White has just completed his charity cycle ride the length of the UK and Peter Jericevich is playing sevens in the US but we expect them all back in the next few weeks in time for the start of the season.
“We still have our eye on a couple of forwards to bolster the pack and if that comes off I think we will pose a problem for anyone.”
The only disappointment is that the first warm-up match, scheduled for Hamilton on Saturday has been called off by the hosts.
With most clubs having their pre-season set up, Ayr are now left scratching around for a fixture which looks as though it will have to played mid-week which unfortunately means that in the run up to Boroughmuir at Meggetland on August 25, they will have been in action on only two Saturdays, at Irvine then the final warm-up at Blaydon.
Plans are continuing apace for the staging of the Glasgow Warriors match against Exeter at Millbrae on Thursday, August 23.