NEW DAWN BREAKS WITH FIRST EVER VICTORY OVER TITLE FAVOURITES

NEW DAWN BREAKS WITH FIRST EVER VICTORY OVER TITLE FAVOURITES

GHA RFC Match 1: GHA RFC 23 – 20 AYR RFC

2002/2003: Scottish Premiership Two

GHA RFC 

 AYR RFC

A. Menzies 15 G. Ferguson
R. Watson 14 S. Manning
R. Armour 13 R. Good
B. Beagley 12 S. Magorian
B. Edgar 11 S. Hazley
J. Noonan 10 A. Reid
R. Au 9 M. Goldie
R. Nolan 1 G. Sykes
R. Finlayson 2 N. Meikle
D. Jamieson 3 J. Edwards
T. Carmichael 4 D. Kelly
J. Mundell 5 A. Good
G. Inglis 6 P. Burke
J. Fitzpatrick 7 T. Wright
A. Plastow 8 E. Manawaiti
I. Nelson 16 E. Logan
G. Mories 17 G. Tippett
 A. Burke 18 K. Hunter
19 G. White
Beagley, Fitzpatrick Try Kelly (2), Magorian
Noonan (2) Con Reid
Noonan (3) Pen Reid
DG
Referee
Mr M. Stevenson (Stirling County)

 

In a match between a side widely touted as potential winners of the championship and a new club appearing in its first competitive outing, an innocent watching could have been forgiven for assuming that the side destined for glory was the nascent GHA.

They were quick, inventive, abrasive and tactically decisive against a plodding Ayr who, after they woke up long enough to indicate why they should perhaps be considered contenders, only frustrated their support more by going back to sleep. Travelling to the newly formed GHA with a couple of hard warm-up games behind them which had boosted their confidence, they went down 23-20 at Braidholm, earning only a losing bonus point when five points could certainly have been secured.

In the first 20 minutes, the best thing that could be said was that Ayr kept their line intact with James Noonan and Andy Reid exchanging penalties. The home side contained Ayr and turned them over with frightening regularity, posing a threat wide which only desperate defence kept out.

Noonan added a third penalty and as the half drew to a close. It looked as though Ayr would go into the break trailing. They did however came to life in the final few minutes of the half; Richard Good broke into the GHA 22m and Al Good carried on the surge with the attack sucking in the home defence, which became thin enough when Ayr spread the ball for Stewart Magorian to cruise over for the opening try. Much to the relief of the travelling support, Reid’s conversion took Ayr 10-9 ahead.

In a topsy-turvy injury time Ayr were forced back to their line only for Damien Kelly and Eddie Manawaiti to break clear; but Reid’s clearing kick went straight to full back Ally Menzies whose counter attack ended with hooker Ross Finlayson held on the visitors line. Ayr hit back with Paul Burke and Manawaiti to the fore but with the line beckoning, Richard Good took the tackle with a three man overlap outside; thus giving Ayr only a one point lead at half time.

Half-Time: GHA 9 – 10 Ayr

There was a feeling that although they had much the better of the first half, GHA would run out of steam but if Ayr were relying on that, they were in for a rude shock.

Noonan was wide with a drop goal attempt a minute into the second half and with no. 8 Andy Plastow showing some masterly touches, the GHA backs, running incisively off Noonan’s promptings, again had the Ayr defence in trouble.

Ayr showed so little imagination that the home defence mopped up with ease but they had no answer to a fine Ayr try in the 53rd minute. A short line out saw Joe Edwards put Kelly in space and the big lock was unstoppable from 15 yards out.

At 15-9 up, Ayr should have consolidated but the lethargy which dogged their game crept back in and when Austin Burke put Plastow into space, the no 8’s superb pass around the tackler put Brett Beagley in for a deserved try. Noonan’s conversion, slotted at the second attempt, gave GHA the lead going into the final quarter.

A dubious call for a forward pass was all that stopped Rory Watson adding to the GHA’s tally, then a terrible guddle from a line out close to the Ayr line saw flanker John Fitzpatrick a fingertip away from a try but he had his reward for an outstanding performance moments later when a Plastow pass changed the angle of attack and with Beagley beating three tackles, the wing forward was on hand to score. Noonan again goaled and with 13 minutes to go Ayr were more than a score behind at 23-15.

By now Graham Ferguson had moved from full back into the no. 10 slot for Reid who had been given a torrid time by the GHA back row and he set Richard Good off into the GHA 22m and when the ball was switched right Kelly claimed his second try.

As the game moved into injury time, Ayr had four kickable penalties, each one of which they opted to run straight into the arms of a grateful GHA defence. There is some dispute as to the communication between the Ayr captain Graham Ferguson and referee Matt Stevenson but with the official declining to tell Ferguson how long was still on the clock, he had the option of a kick at goal or going for the try. It would be easy to criticise the decisions to run the ball when standing on the touchline but in the heat of the moment and with the referee unwilling to help, a kick to the corner would have been risky although a kick at goal would seem to have been the option when at least a draw would have been secured.

As it was, the final whistle went with GHA having pinched the ball for the umpteenth time and they had deservedly won.

Full-Time: GHA 23-20 Ayr

“It was a great start for the new club and to beat the side tipped for the top is a great boost for us. Given Ayr’s reputation we have to be delighted with that performance.” said GHA co-coach David Wilson

 “We tried to ensure that the players were not complacent after the win at Hawks but I am not sure we succeeded in doing that. We certainly played well below the standard we had set ourselves and let ourselves down badly. They obviously knew how strong we are in the pack and managed to play away from strength but having said that; when we did have the ball we were slow to the ruck, our linking was poor and the support was not there for the ball carrier. We appeared to be naive in our approach because although we have street-wise players we did not play street-wise rugby.” said Ayr forwards coach Alistair Grant

Ayr head coach George Beckenridge was sure that part of the problem was down to attitude.

“We were still living on last week’s win at Hawks, although we had stressed to the players all week how GHA would come out like greyhounds from the trap. We were really devoid of ideas on the field and so many of the things we have worked on just didn’t happen. Tactically GHA got it spot on and spread us wide and we should have been able to handle that but instead we let them dictate the game. I am convinced that this league will go to the wire and we have to make sure that this is the kick up the backside which knocks any complacency out of the team.”

Source: The Scotsman, Monday 2nd September 2002 & The Ayrshire Post, Thursday 5th September 2002
Image: Courtesy of Crawford Photography, Ayr

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