ARDS 35 BANBRIDGE SECONDS 7
Bann Seconds had an unfamiliar look as they took to the field for their opening game of the season, a Conference League fixture against Championship 2 side Ards.
Injuries and unavailability in the Firsts and Seconds squads saw skipper Paul Ross lead what was a scratch, and largely youthful, team onto the field.
The North Down side had been relegated at the end of last season but they still proved to have too much weight, literally, for Bann to handle. That was not apparent from the opening exchanges as the visitors kept Ards out of their “22” for the first 25 minutes through some rugged tackling, effective work at the breakdown and a willingness to run back any possession that came their way.
A 35 metre penalty gave Ards an early lead but it was only towards the end of the first half that they were able to build on that early score. Two tries within five minutes were both converted with aplomb by their in-form kicker who added two further penalties for a 23-0 interval advantage.
A positive half-time team talk from coach Colin Bickerstaff saw his team take the game to the opposition at the start of the second period. When Ards were penalised Bickerstaff tapped the penalty and prop Matthew Shirlow collected the ball from the ruck to force his way over the line, with out-half Robin Thompson adding the conversion.
The significant poundage advantage of the home pack was becoming increasingly telling as the game progressed, but despite their difficulties at the set piece the young Bann side continued to frustrate Ards’ efforts to increase their tally.
However with 12 minutes left Ards went in for a third converted try and with Bickerstaff seeing yellow after another scrum collapse, the home side made the numerical advantage tell from the last move of the game as they crossed for the bonus point try, which went unconverted.
Up front Jack Macauley impressed with a workmanlike performance at No 8 while Jonny Campbell tackled relentlessly throughout. Centre Ben Jameson’s strong running kept Bann on the front foot for much of the first half and Adam Stirling’s counter-attacking from full-back created a couple of first half scoring opportunities which Bann were unable to finish off.
After the game Bickerstaff was full of praise for his side’s efforts. “We had our selection difficulties this week but I thought every one of the lads gave it all they had”, he said. “Their much stronger scrum made it difficult for us to get quality possession and that was the essential difference between the sides.
“But I thought we put in a really gutsy performance, making them work hard for every point. And a special mention must go to Christian Trimble, a last-minute call-up who came off the bench at half-time on what was his eighteenth birthday and battled hard throughout that second period.”