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Stirling County 13 Ayr 19: Murray stuck in cul-de-sac despite impressive cv

No-one may have navigated the Labyrinthian, cul-de-sac littered pathway that represents Scottish rugby's development programme as effectively as Kenny Murray, but even he sounded utterly baffled as he contemplated the way forward on Saturday.

In the four years since taking over as Ayr's head coach he has led them to the national title, back-to-back Scottish Cup wins in the next two, then broken new ground by taking them into the knockout stages of last season's British & Irish Cup and he had just watched his men stretch further clear of the rest of this season's title rivals.

Yet, in our brief but wide-ranging post-match conversation, he raised, for by no means the first time, the thorny question of how on earth he and others like him can make the step into the full-time professional game.

"What is the coach development pathway?" he asked. "If they don't have one, then there are a lot of coaches currently in our game who won't be in coaching. "Look at Chick [Craig Chalmers, head coach of Melrose]. He has won the league the last couple of years, but what's his next step? Their view [that of the Scottish Rugby Union] is that you need to move abroad."

That, of course, is a ludicrous proposition given the stage of life and careers most part-time Premiership coaches are at and an indication of the disjointed nature of the domestic game.

Murray was, meanwhile, also struggling to work out just how pleased he should be with the way his men had extended their Premiership One lead over a Gala side that had been forced out of action by the weather.

Stirling has been a difficult place for Ayr to visit over the years, Murray pointed out, so it was important just to register a win, thanks to three tries all scored by front-five forwards, Glasgow Warriors academy lock Nick Campbell getting the first before Hayden Wisnewski claimed a brace either side of half-time.

However, 35 minutes were left after the hooker's second with the wind and rain slightly behind them, so their failure to register a bonus point could yet prove costly.

They also could be grateful to Finn Russell, the former Stirling County stand-off, who managed to hit the target with two of his three conversion attempts, in stark contrast to opposite number Stuart Edwards' efforts. He failed to convert either of Ben Addison's tries, which completed two handling moves that were of surprisingly high quality in the circumstances and only after his fourth miss in all brought about Brian Archibald's introduction was a vital losing bonus point secured by Stirling with the replacement's injury time strike.

Conditions were such that it was no more a day for us to witness the vaunted skills of Mark Bennett, Murray's former protege, who was lined up with the home team, than to expect an exhibition of goal-kicking. "I saw Mark's mum and dad in the stand and had a bit of banter with them, saying I hope he's got an Ayr top underneath that one, but you know what it's like, it's professional sport, decisions are made and you go where you're put," Murray acknowledged in good-natured fashion.

Noting that Bennett went to Clermont Auvergne, one of Europe's biggest clubs, to hone his promising skills in a near-perfect environment, working and competing with the likes of Wesley Fofana and Aurelien Rougerie, he wondered, in more serious vein, about what the youngster is currently being exposed to.

"Coming back here to play club rugby, I'm not sure if that's the best thing, so it would be good to see him getting a run of Rabo games. He's a very good talent, but I think he'll be disappointed he's back playing club rugby," said his former coach.

Not that Murray is exactly in despair, because he believes Bennett will spend much of the next few months in the best possible hands. "I spoke to Sean Lineen [the Scotland Under-20s head coach] last night and Mark's got an opportunity in that squad," he observed. "They could have a really good back-line this year and he could stand out in that, but I think it would just be good to give him a shot like he got under Sean in the pro game when he got a few runs and did all right on the hard ground.

"I think a lot of the under-20s last year didn't excel in the way some of them could, but I think under Sean it will be a different kettle of fish. I think they'll be freed up to play rugby, they'll get some really good structure, they'll get a very, very positive playing environment. I think Sean will make a big difference to the 20s this year."

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