“There are so many young guys in the team. They have ten years or more left”
The Capital side allowed the hosts to build a substantial early lead but hauled their way back into the contest at the interval before the sides traded blows in a tense second half and Ayr eventually prevailed 30-25 after an impressive example of game management, starving ’Muir of possession during the closing minutes.
However, while Clapperton was understandably disappointed to exit the competition at the penultimate stage, he reflected on the progress the side has made during a season which will conclude on Friday evening when Melrose arrive at Meggetland looking to seal the league title.
“It’s just gutting to put a lot of effort into it and to lose by a score. I don’t think there was much between the teams,” said Clapperton, who has returned to the side and resumed the captaincy in recent weeks after having his contribution to the ’Muir cause restricted by injury. “It’s disappointing for us but, bigger picture, to come from where we were at the start of the season and perform like that, everyone is happy.
“We’ve got a good crop of young players – the average age, apart from me, is about 20 to 21,” he added. “There are so many young guys in the team. They have ten years or more of rugby left in them. They will have chances of higher things. But it’s good experience to play in games like this and hopefully we can build into next season and have games like this every week because we are vying at the top of the table.”
Among the rising stars to whom he was referring, there were solid performances from Keith Buchan at full back and back rowers Jamie Swanson and Andy Rose, try scoring contributions by Stevie Wilson in the centre, flanker Alex Henderson and winger Sep Visser, and further evidence of the growing stature of Redha Guedroudj, who proved a real handful for the Ayr defence. The hosts, the defending champions, raced into a 13-0 lead in the opening ten minutes, with Robbie Fergusson slotting two penalties and converting a try by Ross Curle.
Ally Warnock clawed back three points after ’Muir earned a penalty on their first sortie into Ayr territory and sparked a spell of pressure that ended with Wilson sprinting through the home defence for a fine try.
Stuart Fenwick rumbled over from close range to restore a ten point lead, but ’Muir finished the first half with a flourish and the pace of ball transfer from a ruck in the home 22 created an overlap which Henderson exploited for a superbly executed score. Warnock banged over the conversion from wide on the left then restored parity when he slotted an injury time penalty.
Ayr restarted well and capped a spell of pressure on the ’Muir defence when prop Denford Mutamangira ploughed over for an unconverted try. The visitors were under the cosh but displayed their sense of enterprise in attempting to break from deep, and it was from such an attack that they drew level once more. This time Visser gathered on the edge of his 22, darted through a gap, slowed then accelerated past the final two defenders for a magnificent score. Warnock’s conversion attempt was just wide, ensuring a tense final 15 minutes.
And it was Ayr who snatched the crucial score when Jono Willis emerged from a heap of bodies to claim a try that was enough to see Ayr into their third successive final.
While ruing the slow start that allowed the home side to build an early lead, Clapperton was nonetheless delighted at the character his players had shown in battling back.
“It was neck and neck all the way and then at the end, we just couldn’t get the ball. One thing Ayr are good at is closing out the game with their forwards. They kept the ball for the last five minutes. We just didn’t have the ball for long enough periods to have real control of the game.”
Scorers. Ayr: Tries: Curle, Fenwick, Mutamangira, Willis. Cons: Fergusson (2). Pens: Fergusson (2).
Boroughmuir: Tries: S Wilson, Henderson, Visser. Cons: Warnock (2). Pens: Warnock (2).
Ayr: G Anderson, A Wilson, R Curle, M Stewart, S Manning, R Fergusson, M McConnell, D Mutamangira, S Fenwick, G Sykes, S Sutherland, C White, G Fisken, R Colhoun, J Willis. Subs Used: A Kelly, A Dunlop, A J MacFarlane, C Taylor.
Boroughmuir: K Buchan, S Visser, M Clapperton, S Wilson, R Guedroudj, A Warnock, S Johnson; N Fraser, S Crombie, J Latta, I Moody, A Davidson, A Henderson, A Rose, J Swanson. Subs Used: G Jones, R Wilson, G Scott, N Rodger, J Webster.
Referee: A McMenemy.