BT Premiership play-offs Semi-Final

AYR 38


Pictures: Alister Firth

by Elena Hogarth

AYR powered into their second national final in as many weeks when they easily beat Glasgow Hawks in the semi-final at Millbrae.

After being defeated by Ayr the week before in the BT Cup last four, it was a very different Hawks that showed up.

Out went their star man – and soon to be Ayr player – Tommy Spinks and in came a raft of Glasgow Warriors men, released by the Scotstoun side while they were travelling to London to play Saracens in the Champions Cup.

But the inclusion of the full-timers didn’t so much give Hawks a boost as upset their equilibrium. They started with brio but quickly got in a muddle, and Ayr, with their settled squad, sped into an eleven-point lead.

Half-backs Frazier Climo and David Armstrong were again running the show, creating ample opportunities for their backs to get to the try-line. First, centre Archie Russell stretching an arm out from a melee, then full-back Grant Anderson took a perfect pass from Climo, before winger Danny McCluskey – Ayr’s top try-scorer this season, with 12 added one just before half-time.

It wasn’t just the running men who got in on the scoring action. Second row Robert McAlpine had another all-round performance, working extremely well with Scott Sutherland at the set-pieces and bulldozing through the defenders for a try just after half-time.

It’s going to be a tough call to decide player of the season, with McAlpine putting his hand up, as well as George Hunter, who has played three different positions this year, and all with aplomb. His fellow prop Steven Longwell has also been in fantastic form. Flankers Blair Macpherson and Will Bordill (in his final season with Ayr before he moves away for work) have been tireless in every match they’ve played.

All Hawks had by half-time was a penalty by scrum-half George Horne. But young back rower Matt Fagerson, teenage brother of Scotland cap Zander, fired over for a try, which Horne converted.

The visitors put in some enormous tackles, with Armstrong and his fellow diminutive but seemingly unstoppable team-mate Craig Gossman receiving special ‘attention’ from the swarming red shirts.

The big hits couldn’t stop Anderson though as he got his second try, with Climo converting his third of the day before he took his leave and Ross Curle went on kicking duty.

But the maddeningly mercurial centre didn’t last the game. Not long after he had taken a pass from rampaging captain Pete McCallum to score a showboating try (he didn’t dot down behind the posts but away to the side to give himself a more difficult conversion, which he landed), he was shown a red card from referee Keith Allen for a dangerous tackle.

Cards marred the game. Before Curle’s red, Hawks’ prop and captain Steven Findlay and winger Sean Yacoubian were both sin-binned for big hits turning into reckless challenges, and Anderson was unfortunate to get a yellow card for a high tackle on Horne, who slipped as Anderson grabbed him.

Curle’s dismissal gave Hawks a penalty try, with Horne adding the extras, before their two-man advantage when Anderson was in the bin allowed Fagerson to add another.

It was a strange end to an otherwise enthralling match, and there will be an anxious wait to see if Curle can be involved in the BT Premiership final on Saturday April 15, which will take place at the Greenyards against Melrose (also Ayr’s opponents in the BT Cup final at BT Murrayfield the week after).

“Again, we put ourselves in a good position at half-time by playing in the right areas of the field,” said Ayr head coach Calum Forrester, “and the players showed maturity to bury the match in the second half. We’re now very much looking forward to facing our old rivals Melrose in two big finals.”

Melrose hammered Currie 42-15 in the other semi-final, and, with home advantage, will be full of confidence about claiming the league title. But Ayr seem to be peaking just at the right time; with Climo’s game management, Armstrong’s vision and industry, fire-power in the back line and strength and skill in the forwards, with the steadying influence of captain McCallum, Ayr will fancy their chances in the Borders and a week later in Edinburgh.