The Christmas shoppers who chose queues and tills over Millbrae’s rucks and mauls missed a real festive treat as Ayr turned up the gas and saw off Ulster Ravens, 41-22, in their third fixture of this season’s British & Irish Cup.
Head coach Peter Laverie said: “It was a great win, I’m really pleased for the boys, they worked hard together and it was a real team effort.
“I thought, today, we didn’t have individual performances, the players were working together for each other, that was really the key to it, and we put Ulster under a fair bit of pressure. “
A small but vociferous support welcomed the sides, minus Gordon Reid for the hosts, who was stuck at Bristol Airport due to air traffic control computer issues – his place on the bench filled by Stuart Fenwick, who’s also Ayr’s club development officer.
It was all Ulster in the opening minutes, however, captain Paddy Wallace leading the charge with a try after 45 seconds, the conversion secured by James McKinney, most recently seen securing man of the match for Ulster against Edinburgh Rugby.
Ayr’s air of hesitancy cleared as the clock ticked into double figures, the first real break seeing stand-off Finn Russell cross the whitewash then convert his own try to make it seven-apiece.
The restart went Ayr’s way and a sure break up the wing into the top corner was only halted by a slip, the increasing confidence of the hosts clearly ruffling the opposition and finding them wanting in defence.
The visitors bounced back, however, and some dogged tackling by Byron McGuigan halted Ulster’s progress, keeping the score 7-all as 20 minutes approached.
Ayr swiftly regrouped, bossed in attack by captain Grant Anderson and a great run from Russell down the wing set up flanker Andrew Dunlop to score, Russell’s conversion just drifting wide to help his side pull away 12-7.
The furious tempo and tackling saw Scott Sutherland leave the field after taking a knock some moment later, however, to be replaced by Graham Williamson. Ayr secured the penalty, nailed by Russell which was mirrored with a similar scored from Ulster’s McKinney, to make it 15-10 in favour of the hosts at half time.
Ulster came out fighting in the second half, taking the first points as Ireland under-20 flanker Conor Joyce crossed, the conversion wide, to make it 15-all. It was then all Ayr as centre Ross Curle broke for a 20m run to the line, swinging round to dot down under the posts, Russell nailing the conversion.
A 22-15 lead became 29-15 five minutes later as George Hunter claimed the points, crashing over the line in the top corner following a great series of pick and goes – a difficult conversion at distance from the touchline was then made to look easy by Russell.
Deteriorating weather conditions did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the support, appreciative of a great team performance and all-round solid work by eventual man of the match Murray McConnell.
With 15 minutes left, sustained pressure from the Millbrae men saw Curle crossing again, matched by a try from substitute Liddell, duly converted for Ulster, reducing Ayr’s lead to 34-22.
The rain continued, the mud levels rose and the opposing shirts became one colour as Ayr continued their onslaught, a final try for Hunter on 80 minutes topped off by Russell’s conversion to make the final score 41-22 to the home side.
Laverie added: “We stood off in the first five minutes which led to their first try then we picked our game pace up which was really key.
“But we worked hard in attack and the really pleasing thing was that we put together some really good passages of play and scored some attractive tries too. For George to get the pushover try at the end was a real bonus for him – he worked his socks off today and I was really pleased with his performance.
“I feel the boys put on a good show today and it was good for the supporters as well – we’ve had a hard few weeks in the league so this has given us a real lift.”
Ayr: 15 Grant Anderson (Capt.) 14 Richard Dalgleish 13 Ross Curle 12 Robbie Fergusson 11 Byron McGuigan 10 Finn Russell 9 Murray McConnell; 1 George Hunter 2 Fergus Scott 3 D'arcy Rae 4 Callum Templeton 5 Scott Sutherland 6 James Eddie 7 Andrew Dunlop 8 Peter McCallum. Substitutes: 16 Finlay Gillies 17 Stuart Fenwick 18 Nick Cox (unused) 19 Graham Williamson 20 Peter Jericevich 21 Scott Wight 22 Kerr Gossman
Ulster Ravens: R Andrew, R Adair, S McCloskey, P Wallace (Captain), P Nelson, J McKinney, M Heaney: K McCall, J Murphy, R Lutton, M Campbell, M Rea, C Joyce, F Taggart, A Hamilton. Substitutes: P Jackson, A Macklin, J Atkinson, L Dow, D Shanahan, D Busby, A Liddell.
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Assistant referees: Duncan McClement and Stephen Hart
Ginger Grouse Man of the Match – Murray McConnell