Ayr completed the cup and league double in a dramatic finale to RBS Cup Finals Day. The 100 minutes was up – yes, 100, as we were at the end of a second ten minute period of extra time – as ball was swung left for Ayr’s substitute winger, Cameron Taylor, to outstrip the Melrose defence and get the clincher. Did he flirt with the touchline, was the pass ok? The officials ruled yes and that was the cue for Ayr celebrations.
Taylor was Ayr’s penultimate sub, the 11th of 12 rolling subs permitted and when he was introduced for Craig Gossman, the thought did cross your correspondent’s mind that maybe to replace a man with such genuine gas wasn’t the best of options. Got that one wrong!
Although Ayr scored four tries to one, it was impossible not to have sympathy for Melrose who played with such gusto and determination that the manner in which they lost the tournament might make strong men weep.
It was only the fourth time in the history of the Cup that the double had been done, thus Ayr join Melrose, Hawick and Glasgow Hawks in that particular achievement
It was the first extra-time final since 2002 when Nikki Walker inspired Hawick to victory against Glasgow Hawks and although Ayr believed they had not hit the heights of which they are capable the game was hard to beat in terms of the nerve-jangling conclusion and was a great advert for the fitness required to rugby at this level.
Ayr’s fourth successive appearance at RBS Cup Finals Day – and for the fourth time in five years it was Melrose in the final – suggested two well-matched teams accustomed to all the ballyhoo of the event.
Ayr, Scotland’s champion club, who had beaten the Borderers twice on RBS Premier Division business this season, were first on the board with a Peter Jericevich penalty.
John Dalziel, the talisman of the Melrose pack was sin-binned in the sixth minute for a spot of fisticuffs and though Joe Helps brought parity to the score-line with a penalty, it was Ayr who struck next with a well-manufactured try for Richard Dalgleish.
Jericevich missed the conversion but slotted his second penalty before Helps pulled back two such similar efforts.
Within four minutes of the restart a searing break from Richard Mill set up the position for Helps to pop over his fourth penalty and for Melrose to lead for the first time.
Scott Sutherland was yellow carded for Ayr as the breakdown penalties began to mount and Helps got an in-off to suggest that lady luck was smiling on the Borderers who led 15-11 after 49 minutes.
Melrose were perhaps fortunate to escape the same fate when Murray McConnell’s quickly taken tap penalty was obstructed illegally, referee Linton simply advancing the penalty ten metres.
Ayr got their patterns going, attacking the narrow side repeatedly then their forwards honey potting to the left, before they spread ball wide to Gossman’s wing.
That was the cue for them to mix it up anew with a bit of old-fashioned close-range driving which culminated in the Reverend Nick Cox, an evangelical church minister in Ayr, crossing for the try. Ross Curle converted and Ayr had nudged ahead at 18-15 with 15 minutes remaining.
Richard Mill took on the kicking duties five minutes from time and with ice-cool nerves landed the equalising penalty, albeit Ross Curle had a chance to edge Ayr ahead a minute out only to slice his effort from the right.
Cox will have some interesting lines for his sermon tomorrow, however, rounding off another sequence of percussive Ayr drives with his second try to give Ayr daylight again at 23-18.
But almost at once Fraser Thomson followed up his own kick ahead to win the race for Melrose’s first try of the day and Andrew Skeen’s conversion saw them storm ahead 25-23 five minutes into the first period of extra-time.
Three minutes of Melrose possession in the second period saw Richard Mill take aim with a drop goal but it slipped wide.
It looked as if Melrose would hold out but in spite of a free kick in their favour in the final minute of extra-time Ayr were given one last opportunity, they hammered away relentlessly before the coup de grace was sparked by Taylor, the 28-year-old electrical engineering student at Strathclyde University.
RBS Man of the Match as chosen by Edinburgh Rugby’s Alun Walker, Alex Allan and Izak Van Der Westhuizen was Nick Cox of Ayr.
The overall attendance today was 7,367.
Melrose: Fraser Thomson; Callum Anderson, Bruce Dick, Joe Helps, Allan Dodds; Richard Mill, Bruce Colvine; Nicky Little, Wayne Mitchell, Gary Holborn, Graeme Dodds, Peter Eccles, John Dalziel , Grant Runciman, Andrew Nagle. Subs: Richard Ferguson, Steve Lowe, Ross Miller, Ross Ovens, Scott McCormick, Andrew Letham, Andrew Skeen.
Ayr: Grant Anderson; Craig Gossman, Robbie Ferugsson, Dean Kelbrick, Richard Dalgleish; Ross Curle, Peter Jericevich; Denford Mutamangira, Hayden Wisnewski, George Hunter, Colin White, Scott Sutherland, Ross Doneghan, Andrew Dunlop, Calum Forrester captain. Subs: Stuart Fenwick, Nick Cox, D’Arcy Rae, Peter McCallum, Graham Fisken, Cameron Taylor, Murray McConnell.
Referee: Lloyd Linton