NEWRY SECONDS 8 BANN FOURTHS 24
Thankfully Telford Park had recovered sufficiently from monsoon season to host this fixture at the third time of asking as the Bann men made the short trip down the A1. As the Newry team disembarked their ark they were looking like an extremely bulky and organised outfit and the Fourths were under no illusions as to the size of the task facing them in the blistering South Down sunshine. They had been overtaken by Clogher Valley in the league, pushing them down to third, and were keen to do whatever it took to get their second place back, maintaining hopes of promotion.
Having won the toss, Bann elected to play into the sunshine, and whatever little breeze there was, in the first half. Philly Morrison got the game underway with a cracking kick-off that immediately put Newry on the back foot as the Bann pack gave chase. They heaped the pressure on and some strong carrying from Ryan Ringland, Kyle McConnell, Matty Bell and Jonny Murray saw them enter the Newry “22”. This strong running from the forwards was complemented by the backs who were playing some fantastic attacking rugby, using the width of the pitch to great effect, with the experienced 9/10/12 axis of Kris Coleman, Morrison and Gary Lutton pulling the strings.
Newry were struggling to contain wave after wave of Bann attacks and were giving away penalties at will. It was the quick thinking of scrum half Coleman that created the first try, as he tapped and went from yet another penalty, flashing the ball wide to Bell who fed Scott Thompson with the young centre showing impressive footwork and strength to touch down despite the attention of three Newry defenders. Morrison was very unlucky not to add the extras as he saw his conversion attempt come back off the upright.
The Newry out half got proceedings underway again with a long, hanging, competitive kick which Bann failed to deal with, meaning that they’d put themselves under immediate pressure with a Newry scrum on their “22” metre line. The No 8 picked and went only to be met by a thumping PJ McNally hit and turnover king Jonny Murray was over the ball in a flash to ensure Bann possession. From the turnover the backs once again showed their capabilities, flashing the ball wide in a delightful display of simple yet effective rugby. The ball found its way to Josh Graham on the wing just outside his own “22” and the young flyer made light work of the remaining 70 odd metres, as well as the Newry cover defence, to score the try below the posts. Morrison bisected the posts with the conversion to take the score to 12-0.
With the scoring of their second try Bann appeared to think that the job was done and took heir foot of the gas somewhat for the next 10/15 minutes. Failure to deal with the restart again caused confusion and Newry duly opened their account with three points off the tee following a Banbridge offside at rucktime.
Following a short spell of possession in the middle of the park from Newry at the restart, they flashed the ball wide to their outside centre who was met by some slack defending and cantered clear, only to be met by some desperate last ditch defence and be held up over the line. This was short lived respite for Bann though as they coughed up possession after working hard to turnover and make their way 40 metres up field. The ball made its way to the Newry stand-off and he resorted to an old-school up and under, which Bann failed to deal with in the sunlight, and the home centre made no mistake this time to dot down to the right of the posts. Terrific pressure from Morrison forced the kicker to miss the kick and ensure the score line remained 12-8 to the visitors.
Bann knew they needed something before half-time to stem what was fast becoming a Newry onslaught. Having won a scrum just outside the Newry “22”, scrum half Coleman scored a fantastic solo try from the base, picking and going to outstrip the Newry defence and score to the right of the posts, maintaining a tremendous record of having scored a try in every season he has played senior rugby.
As the second half commenced it became clear that both teams were struggling to maintain their tempo in the warm conditions. It became a low key affair that was largely played out between the “22s” with fatigue resulting in handling errors and needless penalties from both sides. Kris Campbell and Christian Trimble, along with Ryan Ringland, were now giving their opposition front row hell at scrum time, with the former coming in for some particularly rough treatment in the form of a near decapitation by the Newry skipper, which saw him binned.
Replacement Jack Myles, along with fellow finishers Lee Close and Alex Shannon, provided some much needed fresh legs and impetus. A lovely bit of play between Andy Crory and Grant Murphy down the right wing was harshly punished for a forward pass just when it looked like the score of the day was about to unfold. From the resultant scrum Gary Lutton forced his opposite number into a handling error before superbly picking the ball up, staying strong in contact and offloading to Morrison to score the only points of the half.
There were strong performances all over the park but manager Colly Broderick gave the man of the match award to a thoroughly deserving Josh Graham who had tormented Newry all day with his mix of pace, exceptionally quick feet and power, whilst showing well in defence also. At full time the team were in high spirits, which were heightened further with the tremendous news of the 1sts’ victory back at Rifle Park leading to a thunderous rendition of the Star of the County Down in the dressing room. The Fourths would like to congratulate Dan Soper and Firsts’ coaching team, along with the playing squad, on what has been a fantastic season and wish them all the very best for the play-off final against UCC on Saturday.