Ulster Bank League: Division 2A Review

7 DEC 2017 | BY CITY OF ARMAGH RUGBY CLUB

Malone came through a very tough test of their title credentials when edging out Corinthians 22-22 at Gibson Park last Saturday, while Belfast was also the venue for one of the results of the round – gritty Greystones’ 27-17 defeat of Neil Doak’s Queen’s University side.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 2A: Saturday, December 2 ROUND 9 RESULTS -

Blackrock College 17 Nenagh Ormond 35, Stradbrook
Cashel 13 City of Armagh 10, Spafield
Galwegians 18 Highfield 40, Crowley Park
Malone 22 Corinthians 20, Gibson Park
Queen’s University 17 Greystones 27, Dub Lane

The top four remained the same at the end of round 9, although Highfield’s 40-18 bonus point victory away to Galwegians means they are only a single point behind leaders Malone now. It was truly a game of two halves at Crowley Park where the Blues had been 13-0 the good at half-time. Galwegians came into the game minus some of their leading players, in particular prop Jason East and centre Brian Murphy whose absence would be keenly felt in the second half. However, there was little sign of this early on as the hosts played all the rugby. They missed out on an early try due to a knock-on near the line. However, the ’Wegians scrum was very much on top where returning loosehead Conor Kyne put in a great shift. This provided the platform for out-half Morgan Codyre to fire over two penalties on 17 and 25 minutes for a 6-0 lead. Highfield were offering little threat and ’Wegians, who were keeping the error count low, pushed further in front with a try after half an hour. It followed a penalty kick to the corner and after some patient attacking play, impressive scrum half Richie Fahy sniped over on the left. Codyre, who had his kicking boots on, landed an excellent conversion to give his side a 13-point buffer approaching half-time. Indeed, ’Wegians had a further chance just before the break, but crucially one last assault was thwarted by the Highfield defence. The second half started ominously for the Blues, though, as an unforced error from the restart handed the opposition an attacking scrum. ’Wegians lost the services of prop Kyne who was confined to a 40 minute run-out on his return to action, whereas the visitors were able to spring USA international prop Paddy Ryan from the bench. This completely turned the game as Highfleld now had a serious upper hand at scrum time, where the absence of East in the front row was to prove extremely costly for his side. For all that, the Corkmen made hard work of scoring their opening try, but it eventually came on 50 minutes when some further errors saw ’Wegians unable to escape from their own 22, and replacement Ryan barrelled in under the posts with Chris Bannon converting. Three minutes later and disaster struck for ‘Wegians when a pass from Codyre on halfway was intercepted by Highfleld’s Fintan O’Sullivan, and the powerful lock raced home to score try number 8. Their next one came straight from the restart when they waltzed through the midfield defence and player-coach Tim Ryan barged over the line. Bannon converted for a 19-13 turnaround. Within five minutes the rout was complete as Highfield went for the kill against a shell-shocked ‘Wegians side. In the blink of an eye they racked up another two tries to seal the bonus point and put themselves out of sight. Winger David O’Sullivan had acres of space to score the fourth try before prop Ryan bagged his brace soon after. It was a devastating 13 minutes of rugby which was harrowing for this young ’Wegians squad to endure, however to their credit they battled on gamely, and they did grab a late consolation score when hooker John Moloney finished off a well-worked lineout move in the corner. Nonetheless, it was Highfield who rounded off an emphatic 40 minutes of dominance with a penalty try in the very last play. New Zealander Clayton Stewart swept through for two closing tries as Nenagh Ormond thundered home against Blackrock College, emerging with a 35-17 bonus point triumph. The Kiwi out-half finished with a handsome 25-point tally, taking his season’s haul to a whopping 115 points already. The sides scored two tries apiece during the first half at Stradbrook, and ‘Rock closed the gap to 18-17 before Nenagh gradually put the game beyond the hosts’ reach. Stewart kicked a penalty and converted his two tries, the first of which was set up by a superb pass from Willie O’Connor. Nenagh’s earlier try scorers were Kevin O’Flaherty and John Healy. Cashel delivered another winning performance at Spafield – their third in a row – as tries from flanker Richard Moran and centre Conor Cashman guided them past City of Armagh on a 13-10 scoreline. The visitors were missing the influence of captain Ali Birch and fellow back rowers Neil Faloon and James Morton.

Armagh were penalised heavily at ruck time early on and Denis Leamy’s men seized the initiative, using a well-controlled rolling maul to send Moran over for the opening try. Out-half Darragh Lyons missed the conversion but nail a penalty, 10 minutes later, for an 8-0 advantage. Chris Cousins, who donned the number 10 jersey for the Ulstermen, knocked over a penalty in response, and Armagh did well work their way downfield after Lyons twice pinned them back early in the second period. However, the territorial pressure paid off on the hour mark when Cashman cut through for an unconverted score.

Willie Faloon’s charges dug in and had some of their best attacking phases of the match, with number 8 Robert Whitten making the initial break and good recycling teeing up winger Ryan Purvis for a well-worked try to the left of the posts. Cousins’ conversion made it a three-point game but despite Armagh exerting some more pressure in the final minutes, it was a case of too little, too late.

Leaders Malone were made to work very hard for their latest win (22-20), breathing a big sigh of relief as Corinthians’ comeback bid fell just short at Gibson Park. The visitors’ number 8 Sean Masterson, the Ireland Under-20 international, spilled the ball and missed out on what had looked a certain match-winning try. Kieran Joyce, who is now in the Connacht Academy, lined out against his former club and he kicked two penalties to ensure Corinthians were right in the hunt at half-time, trailing 7-6. A clever switch move involving Callum Smith and Rory Campbell produced an early Malone try which winger Campbell scored and converted himself.

Connacht hooker Pat O’Toole stood out for his ball-carrying in the Corinthians ranks, with Mark McDermott also making an immediate impact off the bench. Defences were on top for the most part, but the physical exchanges took their toll as Malone lost centre Michael Cartmill to an ankle injury. Although the westerners were edging the breakdown battle and carrying forceful through their forwards, it was Malone who opened the scoring in the second half. Josh Pentland, who had replaced Cartmill, and Nathan Brown combined for the latter to offload and put full-back Jack Owens over for a superb try and a 12-6 lead. The momentum was with Corinthians by the end of the third quarter, though, as successive penalties led to Malone lock James McAlister being sin-binned. Taking the scrum option from the penalty, the visitors created an overlap for prop Craig Hansberry to cross the whitewash with Joyce’s conversion moving the Galway men ahead. As both sides looked to their benches, Malone displayed their clinical edge again as Pentland led an incisive attack when ended with Owens notching an excellent second try, converted by Campbell. It was a real squad effort as Malone eked out a 76th minute penalty which Campbell landed to give them a nine-point cushion. Corinthians showed no signs of throwing the towel in, with Masterson and half-backs Joyce and Stephen Kerins playing key roles in their late fight-back. The equally influential O’Toole set up a grandstand finish with an 80th minute try, converted by Joyce, and Corinthians’ control of possession from the restart had Malone teetering. Crucially, Masterson’s last-ditch surge went unrewarded and the Cregagh Red Sox held on. Having leaked 55 points to Malone last week, Greystones gave themselves a big lift with a morale-boosting 27-17 victory away to Queen’s University. Two-try winger Padraig Geoghegan had a big say on his return from injury, with David Baker touching down on his first start and lynchpin out-half Andrew Kealy contributing a vital 12 points off the tee.

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