Melrose win the BT Premiership with close win over Ayr
Melrose hosted Ayr at a rainy Greenyards this afternoon (Saturday 7 April) in their second consecutive home BT Premiership final.
The Borderers, who had finished the regular season atop the table, showed nerves of steel to overturn a half-time deficit and claim a 16-13 victory over last year’s champions.
Ayr enjoyed the early possession and their well drilled line-out took advantage of a Melrose infringement to rumble into the opposition 22. The home side looked solid defensively but the referee raised his arm and it was a formality for Scott Lyle to take the early lead for the defending champions.
If the crowd had expected a dominant Ayr pack from the get-go Melrose proved them wrong in the game’s first scrum. They won a penalty that was kicked to touch but they were unable to capitalise on their first real chance, spilling in contact.
The game was proving characteristically tight and the Borderers scored their first points after a quarter of an hour from the boot of Craig Jackson when Ayr failed to roll away at the breakdown.
Flashes of brilliance came from both sides in the loose but the heavy pitch and slippy ball made a flowing game difficult to execute.
Ross McCann danced through to the 22 but his slipped pass to Lockington was knocked on just as it looked like they must score.
What they had lacked in execution they delivered in power at the resulting scrum and Melrose were ahead for the first time as Jackson coolly slotted his penalty attempt.
The response from the champions was immediate. A great pass from Armstrong released McDowall who cantered through and gave the scoring pass to Hughes who dived over for the game’s opening try. Lyle converted and Ayr held a four-point lead after half an hour.
Melrose continued to batter the west coasters’ scrum and won more penalties to ease the pressure on themselves.
When Ayr did keep hold of their put-in they were industrious in the centre of the park. Going tight they won another penalty which Lyle slotted from long-range to extend their lead.
With time running out in the first period, Fraser Thomson gathered a high ball and broke down the flank. As with their earlier chance the pass eluded it’s intended target and Ayr had a scrum to see out the half.
However, the home side put the hammer down and the referee had no choice but to reach for his pocket to send prop Hislop to the sin bin. Craig Jackson’s penalty cut the deficit and the teams headed in for half-time.
Half Time | Melrose 9 – 13 Ayr
Melrose started the half with a man advantage thanks to the sin-binning and they reasserted their scrum dominance after just a couple of minutes to win another kickable penalty which Jackson pushed just right.
When a carbon copy chance came for a high tackle, they spurned the points and went for the corner.
Ayr thwarted the opportunity as the ball came off the top and bundled Melrose into touch.
However, it was Ayr’s turn to botch the set-piece with an over-throw and Melrose had a fantastic chance to strike. They didn’t disappoint on this occasion and captain Grant Runciman was on the end of the move to score the home team’s first try. Jackson’s conversion gave them a three-point lead.
The visitors first scrum penalty came after 55 minutes and was celebrated as though they’d won the game. The kick to touch gave them field position and territory they had struggled for since the break and they looked to maul towards the line only for Melrose to stop them in their tracks.
Melrose look poised to score what might have been a decisive second when they poached another malfunctioning Ayr line-out with 15 minutes to go but the dropped ball and a resurgent Ayr scrum relieved the pressure, winning a penalty.
As unlikely as it looked in the first-half, Ayr’s pack were what kept them in the game. Every pressurised scrum was driven backwards by the men in pink and black and they could breathe again.
But Melrose showed why they had finished the league campaign at the top of the table.
They played tight when they needed to and spent much of the last ten minutes camped in the Ayr half.
When they won a series of penalties with the clock winding down they went to the touchline and were clinical in winning ball and grinding out the result they desired.
With time up Baggott nudged the ball into touch and the men in yellow celebrated a win that will go some way to easing the pain of last year’s reverse.