IT was fancy dress day at Millbrae in preparation for the Halloween party on Saturday night but on the pitch Hawick gave Ayr a bigger fright than any of the ghosties and ghoulies would give them later on.
The visitors simply refused to lie down, and more than one local observer reckoned that they had done enough to take the points back to the Borders.
The rain which had threatened earlier in the day became relentless as the game started. It suited the more rumbustious Hawick style rather than Ayr’s measured approach and for the opening ten minutes the home side was denied possession and territory but eventually the defence ground down the Hawick forays and after 14 minutes they pounced.
Scrum-half AJ MacFarlane hit a superb reverse kick which caught the Hawick defence flat-footed and Cammy Taylor collected, jinked, slipped and did everything but cartwheel on his way to the line. Robbie Fergusson converted, but Hawick rallied and with captain Bruce McNeil to the fore again, laid siege to the Ayr line, won the penalty and Neil Renwick duly obliged with the three points.
As the half-hour approached, Ayr had plenty of possession but with Nick Mactaggart and Keith Davies harrying unmercifully, were unable to do anything with it and frustration set in, culminating in a yellow card for prop Gordon Sykes.
Renwick slotted the penalty and with the margin down to one point, Ayr were looking down the barrel.
It was going to take something special to dig them out of the hole they were in and it came from stand-off Fergusson who scored a brilliant solo try with a sidestep, jink and show of the ball before gliding in for an unconverted score to take Ayr in 12-6 up at half-time.
Hawick YM star Chris Ritson had come on late in the first half for the injured Renwick and left again seven minutes into the second period as referee Charles Samson brandished a yellow card.
But this only spurred Hawick on to greater effort and after camping on the Ayr line, flanker Davies crashed over for the try, with Gary Johnstone’s conversion taking them into the lead.
That was the signal for Hawick to exert real control and they capitalised on Ayr’s plethora of mistakes and aimless kicking to pin them back with some crafty kicks from Johnstone and scrum-half Greg Cottrell. However, they couldn’t quite muster the firepower needed to extend their lead.
Ayr had a chance to take the lead with 14 minutes left but Sylvain Diez’s kick shaved the post.
However, he made no mistake five minutes later when a penalty came for a high tackle and the winger slotted the kick.
Given that sort of situation, Ayr are too experienced a side to give up a lead and they ran down the clock, but it was a mightily relieved home support who greeted the referee’s final whistle.
Ayr go into the championship play-offs comfortable in the knowledge that they will be in the Premier Division next season, while Hawick now have a seven-game series to clinch one of the top two places and ensure Premier rugby will be played at Mansfield Park next season.
If they can get a full side out and avoid injuries, the spirit they showed at Millbrae could be enough to see them through.