BT Cup First Round

AYR 26


by Elena Hogarth

AYR left it to the very last play of the game to beat Currie Chieftains 26-22 in the first round of the BT Cup at Millbrae last Friday.

Played under the floodlights in Alloway, and on a muddy pitch thanks to frequent and heavy showers before and during the match, it was a dramatic affair, as the visitors from Edinburgh raced into a 15-point lead.

Tries by flanker Thomas Gordon and winger Ruairidh Smith, with a conversion and a penalty by fly-half Jamie Forbes, all but silenced the home fans, but they soon had something to cheer about when full-back-turned-scrum-half-turned-full-back Grant Anderson collected a Scott Lyle cross-field kick and scored a try that Lyle converted.

Anderson wasn’t the only one moving position during the match. Ayr were having an personnel nightmare. Losing Stafford McDowall, Paddy Dewhirst and Harry Warr before kick-off due to illness and injury forced a few reshuffles.

Then wingers Craig Gossman and Robbie Nairn were helped from the pitch, with teenage scrum-half Lewis Young making his 1st XV debut, and, rather bizarrely, second row Scott Sutherland coming on for Nairn. He did go to his own position, but that moved Blair Macpherson into the back row and captain Pete McCallum into the backs.

All at sixes and sevens, caked in mud, harried and harassed by Currie, things weren’t looking good for Ayr. But the front row led the comeback. Eventual man-of-the-match Robin Hislop spotted flying hooker Lewis Anderson on his shoulder and popped the pass for the 21-year-old to power over in the corner. Lyle couldn’t convert from out wide.

The desperation of both teams to get to the quarter-finals boiled over into a scrap that saw Currie’s Gordon and his Ayr counterpart George Stokes sent to the sin bin (possibly a case of mistaken identity for both as shirt numbers were illegible thanks to the mud).

Ayr nudged themselves into the lead in the second half when second row Jonathan Agnew (a late addition to the squad, meaning there were four locks on the pitch at once) picked up Currie’s ball at a scrum from which they had been shoved off, and dived over. Lyle got the conversion.

Currie came back, but in the end, it was the referee, Frenchman Luc Ramos, who made the difference, sin-binning Macpherson and awarding a penalty try.

There were only two minutes left on the clock, but Ayr – and their fans – didn’t care. They marched on into Currie’s half, gaining a penalty and taking the line-out. The ball was knocked on, but Ayr still didn’t give up. They had pushed Currie off their scrum once before and they would do it again.

An almighty heave from the forwards left Currie in a heap right on their line, and Ayr prop Steven Longwell nabbed the ball and sprung over for the match-winning score. The fans saved their celebrations until Lyle had converted – then Millbrae erupted, with victory sealing a quarter-final berth.

“I am delighted with the players’ efforts,” said Ayr head coach Calum Forrester. “They showed good character to come back, and the youngsters were great, especially Lewis Young on his debut.”

Although there was joy and relief at Ayr making it to the next round, there was also some dismay that a top four team like Currie Chieftains (currently second in the BT Premiership table, with Ayr in third) should be knocked out of the national cup in the first round thanks to a random draw that saw many prominent teams going head-to-head at the weekend.

Meanwhile, Ayr-Wellington girls finished their Mirage Conference games with a win and a loss against Caithness. The U18s won 58-41, and the U15s were beaten 5-50 in fixtures that were played at Perthshire RFC to cut down on travelling.

The girls’ section continues to grow, with more than 30 youngsters now training and playing every week under the guidance of coaches Catherine Shennan, Connie Griffiths and Neve Finlay, who are all products of the youth system at Ayr RFC.