IT was battle royal under the floodlights at Millbrae on Friday night as Ayr Ladies were beaten 26-19 by south-west rivals Stewartry Sirens in the semi-finals of the Premier Development Cup, writes Elena Hogarth.
The Sirens were one of the first teams Ayr played when they officially formed back in 2012 and they have gone up through the leagues together, with both promoted to the BT Premier League this season.
That familiarity meant the first half was so evenly matched, it looked like neither would breach the defence and score. Every scrum, every line-out, every breakdown was fiercely contested.
A team who at the start of the season looked overwhelmed to be in the top tier of Scottish women’s rugby, Ayr Ladies were commanding, with their young guns leading the way, teenage centre Connie Griffiths putting in tackles that belied her small stature.
Back row juggernaut Kelsey Swift has been in devastating form all season, and the Scotland U20s cap was no different against the Sirens. Another diminutive player, her defensive technique is always spot-on, and she got in on the act in attack too, as did number eight Rachael Mulholland.
It was scrum-half and Scotland international Emily Irving who saw there was something different was needed. A chip over the top didn’t work but her forwards charged down a clearance kick and she was on it in a flash, grounding for a try which stand-off Catherine Shennan converted.
The visitors replied with an unconverted try and all that separated the two sides at the break was the missed two points.
The energy levels from both teams had been outstanding in the first half and the Sirens had more in the tank in the second. Brute strength played a part too as they bullied Ayr at the breakdown and not even the formidable front row of Louise McLauchlan, Michelle Nelson and Lauren Gunn could contain them.
The Greenlaw side scored three tries in very quick succession, leaving the hosts shell-shocked.
But captain Laura Turner rallied her troops and they were helped when one of the Sirens’ forwards was sin-binned for cynical play (just one flare-up of unprofessional behaviour from the visitors; they were marched back an extra 10 metres by referee Neil Armstrong several times).
Ayr replacement Lee Steward pounced on a loose ball and suddenly Shennan appeared in midfield and sprinted for the line. She couldn’t convert her own score though.
The ladies in pink and black showed real patience to withstand the Sirens’ barrage before razor-sharp centre Julie David was away from deep in her own half. She fought off tacklers on an eighty-metre run and scored, with Shennan adding the extras.
There was just a converted try in it and as a cup game, it would have gone to extra time had they drawn. The ladies were fired up for another attack but the sheer strength of the opposition thwarted them. The Galloway women turned over and booted the ball off the pitch for full-time.
Ayr Ladies assistant coach Frazier Climo was proud of their battling display and said: "I can’t fault their effort. They showed good defence at times, especially Kelsey Swift and Rachael Mulholland, but they were under huge pressure. Catherine Shennan scored a great try, with speed to burn, and winger Erin McSorley has wheels too. But all credit to Stewartry for the way they played.”
Ayr-Wellington U18 and U15 girls were winners in the West League on Sunday, beating their counterparts from Annan 22-19 and 55-15 respectively.
The U16 boys snatched a victory with a last-minute penalty in the West Regional Cup semi-final beating West of Scotland 13-10.
The P4s and P7s came home from the Dumfries mini rugby tournament with silverware, both winning their age group competitions.