Ayrshire Storm began life at new home Bellsland with defeat to defending champions Aberdeen Warriors.
The game ended up as the Storm’s season opener after they were forced to postpone last week’s visit to Edinburgh Eagles due to union commitments, and the match practice of the Warriors showed as they kept up their unbeaten start to their title defence.
Both sides had a look at each other in the opening exchanges, before Warriors captain Liam Reid broke the deadlock with an unconverted try on the left after nine minutes.
The Storm responded well to falling behind, and after Ruchin Filander, debutant Liam Matthews and Jordan Duncan each had sight of the Warriors try line, just after the quarter hour Michael Kirk took a pass from Jonathan Deviney – another new face in the lineup – on the right and crossed in the corner to square up the match. Craig Williams’ conversion put the home side 6-4 ahead.
They had chances to go further in front when the Warriors gave the ball away at the kick-off reception and infringed as they tried to regroup, before Blair Jardine and Kyle Matheson made good headway from an interception in the Warriors half, but they were unable to capitalise and the visitors punished this with tries either side of the half hour.
The hosts were the architects of their own downfall in both cases.
First they conceded a penalty in midfield which the visitors kicked to the corner, and from the resulting set winger Richard Roach crossed on the left. The Warriors then pinned the Storm back in their own 20 with a clever Alasdair O’Connor kick play, and after being ruled held up on the resulting set Matt McCall scored on the right after the Storm again gave the ball away. O’Connor converted the latter to put the Warriors up 14-6.
The Storm needed a try before half time to give themselves a foothold in the game, and gave the Warriors a taste of their own medicine with a minute to go. Williams’ probing kick deep in their territory gave the hosts good field position, and Filander claimed the touchdown in the left corner to get the Storm into double figures at the interval.
The home side continued to turn up the heat on the visitors early in the second half, with new recruit Lewis Matheson forced into touch in the Warriors half from a turnover forced by captain Scott Robertson’s intelligent kick play, and Duncan nearly scoring on the right.
Disaster struck eight minutes in however, when another kick play to the corner was intercepted by the Warriors. They built the length of the field from their own line and it fell to lock forward Johnny Gray to apply the finishing touch on the left. Substitute Tom Aplin, taking over the kicking duties from O’Connor, brought up the 20 with his conversion.
The hosts were thrown a lifeline shortly afterwards however. Filander made a fine break into Warriors territory and offloaded nicely to Robertson, whose progress was halted illegally by Danny Hazzard with the Warriors defence in trouble, earning the centre ten minutes in the sin bin.
Taylor McHarg forced his way over under the posts to crown a patient spell of try line pressure from the resulting penalty, to give Williams an easy conversion to cut the deficit to four points. But the Storm were unable to capitalise further on their numerical advantage, and Gray’s second try just before Hazzard’s return, converted by Aplin, kept them in the driving seat at 26-16.
Substitute Connor Turnbull was well marshaled into touch on a typically incisive run, Duncan crossed the line only to be ruled held up, and Jardine dropped the ball in the act of scoring on the right as the Storm continued to search for a way back into the game, but it was to be the Warriors who scored next on 77 minutes.
Not for the first time in the match, the wound was partly self-inflicted. They coughed up possession as they tried to work upfield, and from the resulting set Aplin scored the Warriors’ sixth try of the afternoon, which he converted himself for a 32-16 lead.
The Warriors gave the ball away at the kick-off reception, allowing substitute Robbie McVey to play in Kyle Matheson for the try their attacking play deserved, converted by Robertson. But this was to prove no more than a consolation, and McCall’s second try of the afternoon in injury time put the icing on the cake for the visitors.
The Storm next play Aberdeen Warriors 2nd XIII in a cup tie at Bellsland, before hosting Glasgow Panthers – who defeated Edinburgh Eagles 34-26 in the day’s other match at West Lodge – in the league the following weekend.
AYRSHIRE STORM — C Stormonth; L Matthews, L Matheson, R Filander, C Williams; S Robertson, K Matheson; S Raby, J Duncan, T McHarg, J Deviney, B Jardine, M Kirk. Interchange: C Turnbull, R Festorazzi, S Docherty, R McVey.
ABERDEEN WARRIORS — D Genocchio; J Robertson, B Bissett, D Hazzard, R Roach; C Hume, A O’Connor; L Reid, M Sexton, A Robertson, A Little, M McCall, J Gray. Interchange: J Burnett, T Aplin, S Gray.
REFEREE — Mick Henry
MAN OF THE MATCH — Kyle Matheson (Ayrshire Storm)
Ayrshire Storm head coach Alex Bibby:
“I was happy with the commitment of the players and we were a bit short of match fitness, but with only two training sessions under our belt and a few new faces in the team we worked hard, made a few wrong decisions and got punished. But it’s our first game together so if we can hold on to this team, things will come together [and] we will have a good season ahead of us.”