Team manager Stan Buchan reports on the Club XV’s first Tennent’s National League Division One outing of 2019/20 away to Ayr
Another weekend, another coach trip!
So, it continues on the road for our young team as we set out for Ayr on Saturday with trepidation as to whether we would get out of Alloway as various streets were closed off to facilitate some road race or other, but more of that later.
Ayr was sun kissed, the rugby club were having their Ladies Day and it certainly looked like a sure fire to make money! Put up a marquee, get in a band, have an auction and a non-stop supply of prosecco and who actually needs the rugby!
All the girls put their best frocks on and came out to spend their money and have fun, add in the Ayrshire Bulls Super6 team in Hawaiian shirts and you have a recipe for success.
Ayr looked like they would join in the party spirit as they scored a simple try within a couple of minutes of kick-off courtesy of our mistakes.
Thankfully they missed the kick but Willie Thomson said he had never heard a bigger roar from a crowd before as the home team scored and were off to a flyer.
We got our hands on the ball and held on to it which began to settle the early nerves. Thomson and captain Chris Bell looked composed at half-back and Kerr Stoddart was up to the task of making inroads into the Ayr defence.
We worked into their ‘22’ and a series of patient pick and go moves from the forwards got us over the line. The ref was in a good spot and ruled held up so we went for a five metre scrum.
Our scrum was powerful all day and we drove them backwards for Harry Fisher at No.8 to get the touch down under the posts to make it a simple conversion for Stoddart.
From the kick-off we were soon back in attack deep in the Ayr half, but we coughed up possession and Ayr pounced on it and broke swiftly before kicking ahead more in hope than in earnest, the ball could have bounced anywhere but fell into an Ayr players hands and an easy run in under the posts. They converted it and we were at 12-7 to Ayr.
Back we came and this time we benefitted from the bounce of the ball as we kicked ahead, Fisher and Thomson were up to harass the full-back, the ball went loose in the Ayr in-goal area and Thomson was on hand to touch down for the try. Stoddart could not convert but at 12 apiece we thought we had steadied the ship.
Our confidence grew off the back of a strong scrum, Fisher played strongly at 8 and we made advances into the Ayr half. From another patient build up, Fisher went through the defence, the last man got to him, but couldn’t stop him and over he went for our third try of the half to bring it to 17-12 to Watsonians.
Back came Ayr and tried several lineout drives which we stopped and strangely the referee gave them a penalty. Once again they kicked to touch, but Jonny Duthie anticipated the throw and stole the ball, Thomson kicked to touch and the referee blew for the end of the half. So far , so good with a five point lead at the break.
The best thing I can say about the second half is that very obviously Ayr ate their Weetabix at half–time because they came out with purposeful intent.
In a repeat of the first half they scored quickly to bring it level at 17-17 and they remained pretty much on the front foot for the rest of the half.
We found it difficult to get out of our half as Ayr tightened up their defence and hogged possession. What possession we got we did not use well and tended to hand the ball back to our opponents.
Jamie Bova in the Ayr centre became a very influential player, repeatedly breaking the gain line and setting up Ayr attacks and gaining good field position for his team.
Defensively we had been adequate in the first half but now gaps appeared and Ayr exploited them they added another three tries, all converted, plus a penalty to take the game away from us completely.
In fairness, the team didn’t give up and Van Kacori on the wing showed pace and strength to get over in the corner and then around to the posts. Stoddart converted to bring the score to 41-24 and we picked up a bit, but Ayr came back and scored a very good try under the sticks near the end of the match.
This was converted and at 48-24 there was only pride to play for except the referee blew up much to the amazement of the large crowd as the match clock still showed three minutes to play!
A sizeable defeat at the end although we had the encouragement of a try bonus point which may prove important come season end.
The team will have learned that patience and possession are important in league rugby.
We cannot expect to score off every single bit of possession we gain and at times we need to control the urge to give the ‘Barbarian’ offload - fantastic, if and when, they come off, but at times it’s better to go to ground, recycle and go again. Denying the opposition possession builds pressure on them and we need to learn this habit.
I should also state that 12 of the 20 man squad were playing a league match for the first XV for the first time and the pool of experience is simply not there at the moment.
Undoubtedly we will get better, but I suspect we are a couple of weeks behind where we want to be which is simply due to players not attending in numbers during pre-season and so we are now playing catch-up.
As a club we were very close to putting out three XVs last weekend and a couple of volunteers to look after the twos and threes would probably have secured a team for the threes.
I mention this not as a criticism of the many people who work tirelessly for the club, but it appears our numbers pale by comparison the army of willing helpers that Ayr had on Saturday.
My thanks to our sponsors and supporters who came to watch the team. The players really do appreciate the distances you have covered these last two weekends to support them.
We look forward to seeing you all at Myreside for the games this Saturday when we are currently scheduled to field three teams.
Team: Jack Ferguson; Archie Spencer, Jamie Stephen, Kerr Stoddart, Van Kacori; Chris Bell (C), Willie Thomson; Nathan Borel, Craig Willis, Guy Kelly, Jonny Duthie, Kieran Watt, Tom Richardson, Connor Pearce, Harry Fisher, Subs: Kresimir Coric, Craig Watters, Chris Scott, Donald Kennedy, Jack Currie.
Photo by George McMilllan