West Cup Final
A creditable performance in the U18 West Cup Final
Hamilton U18s travelled to Ayr for their final competitive game of the season. Ayr who were finalists in the National Cup and runners up in the Presidents Conference have only been bettered by Stirling this year so this was an opportunity for the young Bulls to test themselves against one of the best teams in Scotland. Ayr, who also had a convincing win when we last met in the National Cup, approached the game as clear favourites. One thing we have learned about this young Bulls team though is that they have no reason to fear any team and they approached the game in a sun soaked Ayrshire coast with a spring in their step and a clear plan of putting Ayr under as much pressure as possible.
Ayr received the kick off and soon found out that ball retention and territory gains were going to hard fought. The Bulls opened with aggression and pace that soon earned them possession inside their hosts half and after the Ayr defenced pressed too early Hamilton were awarded a penalty 25 yards out. Robbie MacDonald, who had been hitting the upright regularly during warm up, stepped up to take the penalty but the ball found the post again, bouncing back into play. Although Ayr recovered the ball first the Hamilton forwards won the resulting ruck before the ball was shipped out to the left hand side where Billy Simpson powered over the line to open the scoring for the Bulls.
One might have expected a stunned silence from the stand but family and friends had packed a supporters bus, various cars and a few train coaches to create a raucous travelling support that cancelled out any home advantage Ayr expected to have. After every Hamilton score one half of the stand was mute whilst the other half bounced to its foundations. A very big thanks goes to all the supporters who created that atmosphere and to Graeme Bruce who made sure the game was streamed live back to Leigh Bent for those who could not travel through.
Ayr realised they were in a game but showed no sign of panic and ten minutes later after a period of good pressure they won a line out on the 5 metre line and whilst the referee was giving the Hamilton boys a mark Ayr threw a sneaky ball to their blind side flanker who scored without resistance. The conversion took them into a 7-5 lead.
Any concerns that Hamilton’s first try was a flash in the pan were quickly dismissed when they replied 4 minutes later with a try from Callum Stewart. Robbie MacDonald missing the conversion again. But Ayr fought back and towards the end of the half they stacked the blind side of a ruck on the right hand side and scored.
With Ayr missing the conversion the first half ended with a 12-10 lead to the home side. Hamilton had shown more aggression and passion and demonstrated they could score tries when they visited the oppositions 22 but it looked increasingly that the difference might come done to kicking.
In the first few minutes of the second period Ayr took full advantage of two penalty kicks adding a further 6 points to their score. The next 5 minutes saw Hamilton return the pressure with two penalties of their own but the post gremlin continued to haunt Robbie as he hit the upright for the second and third time for no points. The young Bulls did not give up hope and after a fantastic period of concerted pressure with good ball retention they took a quick penalty with David Coccoza, Cammie Moran, Angus Colvin all coming up just short of the line before the ball finally broke to a determined Ollie Dalby who rode two tacklers and stretched out a long arm to put the ball on the line beside the posts. Robbie converted to take the score to 18-17.
Ayr soon responded with a try on their left wing to restore their 8 point margin and for the next 15 minutes the two teams fought for the all important next score. The crowd were treated to a highly competitive and entertaining game of rugby.
As the clock ran down Hamilton had to play catch up rugby with tired legs. Their determination to breech the Ayr defence was commendable but left them open to the counter attack and Ayr managed to score two tries in the last two minutes of the game to give a convincing points victory.
It is true that over the 70 minutes Hamilton lost 37-17 but let us be clear that this was a closely fought battle between two good rugby teams with only 8 points separating them 2 minutes from the end. Yes, our boys should look at the game and see how they can improve individually and as a team but they should also take from this game real self-belief in their abilities and pride in their team performance. It was made clear to coaching staff after the game that the whole club are proud of them all and what they have achieved and we should look forward to playing in the Presidents Conference next year.