Never-say-die Selkirk almost
blow Ayr off-course in cup thriller
scrum-half Michael McVie manages to clear his lines at Millbrae on Saturday, buying some precious breathing space
for the visitors as Ayr pile up the pressure.
AFTER scoring the best try of the match with just
six minutes to go, taking them to within six points of their first division opponents, Selkirk's battle-weary troops
simply didn't have enough strength left to halt Ayr's progress to the last 16 of the BT Cup.
Having suffered just one home defeat in the league all season, the Ayrshire club went into Saturday's fourth round
tie at Millbrae as clear favourites. Selkirk had other ideas, however, and upset the form book with a display of
courage and gritty commitment, which for long periods of the match rattled their bigger and more experienced opponents.
No-one was prouder of the Selkirk team's effort than coach Brian Cassidy. "I felt confident we would give
a good account of ourselves today," he said after the game, "and the boys did just that. It was tremendous
effort by the whole squad - the ability and the belief were there, and we came close to causing a real upset."
Ayr showed their hand straight from the kick-off, as their powerful pack set up a series of rolling mauls, forcing
the visitors into some desperate defence. Selkirk's cause wasn't helped when centre Ally Lyall suffered a neck
injury in only the second minute, sidelining him for the rest of the match. Bruce Armstrong came on as replacement,
with Guy Blair switching to centre.
A fearsome tackle by Denver Rumney on Ayr fly-half A. J. McFarlane signalled the Borderers' intent to take the
game to the home side, but when the visitors failed to clear their lines in the fifth minute, the ball was retrieved
by Ayr and spun wide to full-back Cameron Taylor, who dived over in the right-hand corner for a try.
Selkirk fell further behind when David Cassidy was penalised for not releasing right in front of the posts, and
Nick Lavelle stepped up to land the penalty and put his side 8-0 up.
Ayr's heavyweight pack kept the pressure on Selkirk, but the visiting eight refused to buckle. After 18 minutes
Ben Rawcliffe stood his ground when Ayr skipper Scott Lines was penalised for taking a swipe at the Kiwi prop in
a line-out, but Ciaran Beattie's goal kick just fell short.
The visitors continued to frustrate Ayr's efforts to steamroller them into submission, and the extent of Selkirk's
success was perfectly illustrated when Ayr coach Craig Redpath ran down the grandstand steps to the side of the
pitch, from where he directed a verbal tirade at his forwards.
His displeasure must have increased tenfold soon afterwards, when a lightning blindside break involving Armstrong,
Michael McVie and Alister Heatlie saw full-back Fraser Harkness slice through Ayr's splintered defence to score
wide out on the left. Beattie's superb conversion kick cut the deficit to just 8-7.
Selkirk failed to capitalise on this breakthrough, however, with Rumney being penalised for offside, allowing Lavelle
to once again land a simple penalty from in front of the posts.
Worse was to follow for the visitors, with Steven Renwick and skipper Darren Hoggan being yellow-carded within
minutes of each other, enabling the Ayr pack to launch a 40-metre rolling maul against the short-handed Selkirk
pack, ending in a try for hooker Stuart Fenwick.
As Ayr went for the jugular, Selkirk somehow managed to hold their nerve, with McVie, Scott Jeffrey and Scott Tomlinson
all pulling off last-ditch tackles to keep the halftime score at 16-7 in the home side's favour.
Selkirk began the second half in defiant mood, with Cassidy and Armstrong combining to take play deep into Ayr
territory. However, a series of errors allowed the home team to march back up the field, and only a try-saving
tackle by Alister Heatlie prevented Ayr from increasing their lead.
After 51 minutes Beattie cut the deficit to 16-10 with his second penalty, and some fine driving runs by Martin
Murray, Jeffrey, Cassidy and Harkness had Ayr scrambling to keep their try line intact. However, injuries sustained
in the build-up to these attacks forced Heatlie and Hoggan to retire to the sidelines.
McVie then hounded opposite number Stewart Henderson at the base of a scrum, winning the ball and chipping ahead
to force Ayr to concede a 22 drop-out. Unluckily for Selkirk the attack foundered, and a clearance kick by Taylor
marched Ayr back down the field.
The home team turned pressure into points when McFarlane took a pop pass to stretch over for a try, converted by
Lavelle, to make the score 23-10.
Far from throwing in the towel, Selkirk's resilient players redoubled their efforts, and hit back in spectacular
fashion when Jeffrey released McVie on a sizzling 50-metre break. The scrum-half drew Taylor in textbook fashion,
sending the supporting Harkness over for his second try of the afternoon. Beattie added the conversion, putting
Selkirk right back in the hunt at 23-17.
Unfortunately McVie then had to limp from the field after sustaining a hip knock, and in his absence no Selkirk
player was on hand to cover a speculative Ayr kick-ahead, which bounced over Selkirk's try line and was pounced
on by Richardson for the Millbrae side's fourth try.
After this there was simply no way back for Selkirk's exhausted players, whose spirited performance allowed them
to leave Millbrae with their heads held high.
SELKIRK - F. Harkness, G. Blair, D. Cassidy, A. Lyall, C. Beattie, G. Craig, M. McVie, B. Rawcliffe, D. Hoggan,
M. Murray, S. Renwick, S. Jeffrey, S. Tomlinson, D. Rumney, A. Heatlie. Replacements (all used): B. Armstrong,
R. Crockatt, G. Patterson, R. Aglen.
Referee - G. Knox (Greenock).
FINAL WORD. Referee
Graham Knox raises his hand to signal yet another penalty against Selkirk at Millbrae on Saturday, as Martin Murray
makes his way back to rejoin his team-mates.