ARMAGH 17 BANBRIDGE 39
This opening game of the new SONI Ulster Premiership League was played at a pulsating pace in front of a large crowd at the Palace Grounds last Thursday evening.
The home side, fresh from their friendly wins over Bangor and Ballymena, played with a vigour and confidence which Bann had to work hard to contain. However it was the visitors who took the lead in the 5th minute, with Ian Porter’s break off the base of a setting up No 8 Stephen Irvine for a try which the scrum-half was unable to better.
Undeterred, Armagh resumed on the attack with their lively back row of new skipper Ali Birch, James and Daryl Morton proving a handful for an under-pressure Bann side. Winger Andrew Willis was also making his presence felt with a number of powerful runs threatening to breach the Bann defence.
Armagh deservedly took the lead in the 13th minute thanks to a Tim McNeice try converted by Ryan Purvis after an overthrow at a Bann lineout and as the home pack continued to edge the set piece exchanges a second try, touched down by James Morton and again converted by Purvis, took them 14-5 clear with 32 minutes played.
Bann were gradually able to gain a foothold in the opposition half and Irvine’s storming run off the base of a ruck on the “22” put John Porter in at the posts, with brother Ian converting as play went into injury time in the first half. That 14-12 deficit would have flattered the visitors at the interval but they actually took a one point lead into the break, with Ian Porter converting a penalty from the halfway line with the final act of the half.
A 43rd minute Purvis penalty restored Armagh’s lead but two superb counter-attacking tries in the third quarter of the game changed its complexion totally. With 50 minutes played John Porter raced in from 60 metres, evading the attempted cover tackles launched at him as he weaved in and out past the defenders to score out wide, with brother Ian striking over a fine conversion.
Then from turnover ball inside his own “22” Ian Porter got his back line moving at pace. Peter Cromie took Adam Doherty’s pass to set John Porter off on another sprint down the right hand touchline. The winger off-loaded to his sibling inside the Armagh “22” and the pivot found Doherty with the inside pass that put the full-back in under the posts.
Now 17-29 in arrears after 55 minutes, despite having dominated for long periods of the game, the bite went out of the home side’s play. And after Ian Porter had slotted over off the tee to restore the 15 point gap they never looked likely to get back into the game.
Peter Cromie’s burst through the Armagh lines set up another clear scoring opportunity but Irvine was unable to get his pass away with the line within arm’s reach.
In the last minute Mike Bentley’s 40 metre gallop down the left flank allowed replacement scrum-half Josh Cromie to cross for his side’s fifth try, with Ian Porter again drawing a line under the action with his drop-kick conversion.
Needless to say Bann coach Daniel Soper was pleased with the result after his side had withstood a first half battering. “We haven’t had much success here in recent seasons,” he said after the game. “Two years ago we shipped 40 points so I knew to expect a hard game and they certainly gave us plenty to think about in the first half. Armagh are always aggressive and good at the breakdown so there was no surprise that that was at the forefront of their game.
“We did some things very well but there’s lots and lots to improve on. Our defensive system was pretty ordinary but that’s because we haven’t been working on it in training so that’s to be expected. We talked about it at half-time and the boys sorted a few things out so that was good.
“On the counter-attack we were excellent. We had some good periods at the end of the first half when we had a wee bit of structure and created a score out of it.
“It’s a step forward – I can’t remember the last time we beat Armagh over here – but we’re not the finished product and shouldn’t get carried away with one good result. There’s still a lot to work on.”
Team v Armagh:- Adam Doherty, John Porter, Andrew Morrison, Jonny Little, Andrew Kirkwood, Macauley Little, Ian Porter, Michael Cromie, Fraser Mulholland, James McCrum, Chris Allen, Mike Bentley, Peter Cromie, Dale Carson, Stephen Irvine. Replacements: Ross Haughey, Philip Jordan, Robin Sinton, Simon Lloyd, Josh Cromie.