STIRLING COUNTY came close to defeating league leaders Ayr with a commendable backs-to-the-wall performance at Bridgehaugh, but it was the victorious west-coast team who completed the league-double over their opponents to finish top of the BT Premiership. County have now lost five of their last six league matches, and drop to eighth place in the table, three points ahead of ninth-place Gala with one match remaining. Therefore, County may need to win their final BT Premiership match at Heriot’s to avoid the end-of-season relegation play-off. The County side were without regular centre Nick Grigg, who has joined the Scotland Sevens squad. The only professional player released to Bridgehaugh side by Glasgow Warriors’ was centre Fraser Lyle. In the front row, hooker Cameron Fenton and loose-head prop Garry Mountford started in place of Reyner Kennedy and Mark Hunter respectively.

Ayr began the match at pace, spreading their attacking play across the full width of the pitch, but couldn’t find a way through the well-marshalled home defence. Ayr twice pushed County off a scrum close to the home try-line, but the aggressive tackling by the hard-working home defence eventually forced their opponents into handling errors.

County withstood immense pressure as Ayr laid siege in the home 22 for the entire first 25 minutes of the half, but the County rearguard withstood everything the Millbrae side could muster, with all XV tackling like demons to keep their opponents at bay.

Eventually County turned the ball over and broke clear from deep in their own half, with centre Danny Gilmour (left) carrying the ball into the vistors’ half, before Ayr's covering defence were penalised for not releasing in the tackle. County secured the penalty line-out close to their opponents’ line on the right side, but from the drive the home forwards couldn’t recycle the ball and Ayr were awarded a relieving penalty on their own try-line.

Three minutes later, quick mid-field play by County caught Ayr offside, and left-winger Jonny Hope successfully converted the 30-metre penalty kick to give County a three-point lead against the run of play.

The powerful Ayr pack were repeatedly gaining the edge in the scrum, but time and again County quickly move the ball away from the retreating set piece, to secure possession and clear their lines.

Just before half-time, Hope broke clear from County’s 22, and offloaded to Gilmour on half-way, with the centre barging his way into the Ayr 22, before the supporting Lyle carried the ball towards the try-line, but his pass out of the tackle to Dylan

Taikato-Simpson was adjudged forward and the full-back’s acrobatic touchdown in the right-corner was dis-allowed.

Half-time: Stirling County 3 – Ayr 0. With no changes in personnel at half-time and the freshening wind at their backs, County attacked from the re-start and kept play in the Ayr half, as the home-side tried to find a gap in the vistors’ defence. On 50 minutes, Ayr were penalised for not releasing in the tackle, and Hope extended the home-side’s lead to 6 – 0 with a successful 25-metre penalty kick at goal.

Reyner Kennedy and Mark Hunter replaced Cammy Fenton and Garry Mountford in County's front row.

Ayr responded and after numerous phases of attacking play in the County half, the ball was swiftly moved from left to right for former County player Will Bordill to finish off the move with a try in the right-corner, converted from the touch-line by Frazer Climo, to edge Ayr 6 - 7 in front with 62 minutes on the clock.

County's Shaun McDonald came on for Struan Robertson, before Ayr increased their advantage to 6 - 10 on 65 minutes with a 25-metre Climo penalty after County failed to roll-away from the tackle.

Colin McInally replaced Ed Howgate and Mountford came back on for Hunter in the closing stages, as County pressed forward. Ayr were reduced to 14-men in the 77th minute after winger Richard Dalgleish was sin-binned for an apparent high-tackle, but the home side couldn’t exploit their numerical advantage and were unable to find a way through the well-organised Ayr defence.

County can be justly proud of their efforts particularly in defence, and had to settle for a well-earned losing bonus point.

Final score: Stirling County 6 – Ayr 10.