Aug 24 2012 Ayrshire Post (main ed)
IT has been a long time coming and Ayr had to travel to the north east of England where the opposition proved to be, while a long way from being not at the races, certainly of a quality to test Kenny Murray's men.
Finally the Millbrae squad got the game under their belt that they needed and not a moment too soon with the RBS Premier League campaign starting this weekend, writes Ron Evans.
Opponents Blaydon, currently in SSE National League Division 1 (third division in the English pecking order) provided Ayr with a physical encounter which was badly needed after a pre-season which has been as frustrating as it has been unconvincing.
There have been a variety of reasons for that and no one at Millbrae should be blamed but the early start to the season causing a difficulty in amassing a complete squad coupled with the first warm-up, against Hamilton, being cancelled meant that a decent match was an imperative.
That was exactly what Ayr got at Swallwell as they ran out 26-22 winners but had to battle hard for their four tries.
Indeed the first didn't come until after 40 minutes, 34 of which had seen Ayr trailing to a penalty before Finn Russell made a sparkling break and his well timed offload found Ross Doneghan on his elbow for the try which Russell converted for an interval lead.
Dean Kelbrick was next on the scoresheet five minutes into the second half but Blaydon blasted back with two converted tries in five minutes to lead 17-12 as the final quarter approached.
Richard Dalgleish edged Ayr back in front with a niftily taken try, Russell converted but with eight minutes left, Blaydon again took the lead but the try was unconverted. It was left to Ross Curle to snatch the winner on the final whistle for Robbie Fergusson to convert.
“Just what we needed,” said assistant coach Peter Laverie. “We knew that was the sort of game to bring us up to the level we will need to be at to challenge in the Premier League.
“The point was made after the game that a fair amount of focus has been on the backs and the threat they will pose in the run-up to the start of the season but when they have close to full complement on the field, our pack can be pretty impressive as well.
“It was great to see Nick Cox back to his best and he had a stormer while Ross Doneghan and Calum Forrester were an excellent blend off the back of the scrum with Finn Russell having a fine game at No10, setting up our opening try beautifully.
“There were no injuries from the game so we travel to Meggetland on Saturday with a full squad. There is no doubt that a win away from Millbrae against a side like Blaydon is a big boost and it did no harm as a bonding session either.”
So Ayr face Boroughmuir at the beginning of what will nothing less than a cut throat Premier League, ten teams, the top four into the British and Irish Cup, the bottom side relegated and the second bottom in a play off against second in the National League.
Boroughmuir have got Calum Cusiter back in their ranks although whether, in his thirties, he can conjure up some of the magic he brought to his game before taking a lengthy sabbatical remains to be seen.
In the front row, they will have Kean Coertze who has moved down the road from Watsonians and an Aussie hooker in Mike Brown.
Ally Warnock, the man whose goalkicking has been crucial to 'Muir's game in recent seasons, is an unlikely starter as he recovers from a shoulder problem but the Meggetland outfit's pre-season looks, on paper quite demanding having won 32-21 against Gala at Netherdale, survived a trip Tynedale then had a more than useful workout in their round robin with Stirling County, Dundee and Edinburgh Accies last Saturday.
This is a tough but winnable start for Ayr and they will want that victory on the board before the arrival of Dundee at Millbrae the following week for what promises to be a belter.