No Ayrs and graces as Pirates show ruthless streak
THE beauty of the British & Irish Cup is that it throws up fixtures like this one and nobody who made the 1,100 mile round-trip to Millbrae can have any complaints about the welcome they received from their Scottish hosts nor the match they watched.
The huge downpours which had left some roads on the outskirts of Ayr awash held off for long enough to get the game played, and on an almost unseasonably mild day in mid-October the Scottish Premiership and the English Championship collided.
Slap bang as we were in the middle of Robert Burns country, with the Alloway Monument nestling behind the trees at one end of the ground, it is fair to point out that there were no cowering timorous beasties anywhere to be seen as a full-blooded cup tie unfolded.
Having been piped onto the field Ayr, in their wonderful pink and black jerseys, took an early grasp on the contest to ignite the passions of the home crowd. For a minute or so the travelling Pirates fans, and a decent contingent from Exeter Chiefs, held their breaths before the appropriately named Angus Sinclair, who is very much Australian, set about ruining Ayr's day.
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Perhaps it is because nobody really knew what to expect from the Pirates this season that they have gone about their business in such an exciting and entertaining fashion. By this time last year they had played two more games and scored less tries, despite two bonus point cup wins, and something was clearly missing.
Then, as now, they had also just returned from winning a battle in Scotland, but throughout the whole of last season it was rare that you could say the Pirates had dominated opponents in victory.
But at Millbrae they brushed aside the early ten-point deficit and set about taking control of the game with such ruthless efficiency that it was a joy to watch. This was far from a first-choice Pirates squad, but we may be approaching a point where the coaching staff need to reconsider their automatic choices for key positions, such is the level of competition.
Sinclair had arguably his best game in a Pirates shirt, running the midfield while the new centre pairing of Tom Hendrickson and Alex Dancer showed promise. Mike Pope started on the wing before reverting to scrum-half, giving the team different options in both, while up front the whole pack looked like a well-oiled machine.
The replacements' bench was used to devastating effect with Tom Channon growing into the Pirates front row and the two Kierans – Hallett and Goss – adding another dimension of quality to the back play.
Lock Darren Barry was described by Ian Davies as bringing "Gallic flair" to the contest and he rampaged with the ball in hand in the style of Chabal minus the flowing locks. It was good to watch and this Pirates team right here and right now are very easy on the eye.
Tougher tests than Ayr lie ahead for sure. But eight tries and 50-plus points on the road is not to be sniffed at.