Relieved Ayr coach Kenny Murray backed Edinburgh Accies as potential British and Irish Cup rugby qualifiers after the Capital outfit came closest to beating the league leaders in their seven Premiership outings so far this season.
An 18-20 Raeburn Place defeat was the third time Accies have been squeezed out by a margin of less than three points while they have also figured in a draw (at Currie).
Had all these tight encounters swung Accies’ way then, taking into account the bonus point system, Accies would today be sitting comfortably in the top three despite defeat by Melrose instead of sitting sixth out of ten.
“Definitely in terms of work rate and effort Accies were a difficult team to break down,” said Murray. “They are going to take points off teams.”
Asked about the possibility of Accies finishing in the top four to claim a B&I Cup place, Murray said: “I think it is possible although they would need to start beating the Melrose’s, Gala’s and ourselves a bit more regularly.”
What cannot be overlooked is the fact that for all he moved the back-line well amidst a high-risk strategy of standing up flat and relying on slickly delivered passes, Accies playmaker Ruairidh Bonner did miss a relatively straightforward penalty in front of the posts just before the interval.
Ultimately that was to prove decisive and, in a blow of a different kind, ex-Edinburgh pro Alex Blair saw his comeback from a lengthy injury absence ended after 38 minutes.
Blair had been troubled by a back complaint and Accies coach Simon Cross said: “It was such a shame for Alex who looked pretty lively with the ball before come off with a hamstring injury having worked so hard to get back.
“It is his hamstring although these things can be related. He’ll come back though.”
As will Accies who had a string of outstanding individual displays – none better than from their long-serving captain Dan Teague whose ability to grab any loose ball and almost simultaneously set up possession was masterly.
Alongside in the back row Hamish Watson excelled in linkeage and cover while props Alex Allan and Lewis Niven carried ball trenchantly.
Watching Scotland under-20 coach Sean Lineen was able to check on, amongst others, 18-year-old Accies backs Ruaridh Young and Sam Pecqueur while Ayr’s try-scoring wing Gavin Lowe is a real prospect at just 17. So, with no fewer than nine of the Accies squad coming through the BATS youth system albeit with much assistance from Trinity Academy it was little wonder coach Cross was also able to smile.
“We have some great youngsters and it was a case of throwing them into the lion’s den because of injuries.”
Accies trailed 17-3 at the interval and Cross added: “We made a couple of silly mistakes in the first half which gave them field position. Also, a knock on from us gave them a five pointer
“Fair play to Ayr who are a quality side. They played well enough to win the game. But I’d have been disappointed if we hadn’t at least picked up a losing bonus point. We had a lot of possession and the way we have to play depends on getting the lion’s share of possession to compete.
“We work very hard at double tackles with the second man stealing the ball because when we play against de-constructed defences we give ourselves a chance. We are not a side who can defend for a massive amount of time.
“We are fit, small and pretty skilful. It nearly paid off and our goal line defence in the last five-ten minutes was excellent. When we turned them over I thought we were on to win because they were quite tired.
“I was really impressed with some individuals – Ruairidh Young, Sam Pecquer who are in the Scotland under-20 squad along with hooker Calum Black.
“Hamish Watson was outstanding, too, and when Euan Bonner came off the bench he worked very nicely alongside his brother.
“With all the changes we had to make I was delighted the guys who came in gave us a chance to win that game.”
Accies began to be caught by sucker punches when Ross Curle rounded off a counter for Sylvain Diex to convert and when Lowe made it 12-0 in as many minutes Accies were especially grateful for a stabilising penalty from Ruairidh Bonner.
Willingness to gamble in tight situations typified Accies’ undoing, though, as when spilled possession led to a Robbie Fergusson touchdown but the fightback coincided with a penalty try awarded when Josh Pecqueur was high tackled almost in the act of scoring out wide, Curle picking up a yellow card.
Diez made it 20-10 with a penalty before Josh Pecqueur struck following a quick throw-in involving Sam Pecqueur and Young allowing Bonner to convert and set up a grandstand last 18 minutes during which both sides had chances.
Scorers: Edinburgh Accies: Tries: J Pecqueur, Penalty try. Conversion: R Bonner. Penalties: R Bonner (2). Ayr: Tries: Fergusson, Lowe, Curle. Conversion: Diez. Penalty: Diez.
Edinburgh Accies: R Young, J Pecqueur, A Blair, I Berthinussen, S Pecqueur, R Bonner, A Black, A Allan, C Black, L Niven, G Campbell, T Drennan, D Teague (captain), C Reid, H Watson. Subs: M Liness, C Murray, A Findlater, J Adams, E Bonner.
Ayr: G Anderson, G Lowe, R Fergusson, R Dalgleish, C Gossman, R Curle, S Diez, N Cox, H Wisneski, G Hunter, C White, S Sutherland, G Fisken, C Forrester (captain), A Dunlop. Subs: D Rae, S Fenwick, R Doneghan, N Campbell, C Taylor.
Referee: G Gordon.