Match Centre - February 16, 2019 - 2:30 pm

All Ireland League 

Malone RFC
Banbridge RFCBanbridge RFC 1sts XV

@ Malone - Gibson Park

Match Details

MALONE   22      BANBRIDGE   15

Pace-Setters Malone extended their lead at the top of All-Ireland League Division 1B to three points after a strong second half saw them emerge victors in this Ulster derby.

The teams which started the game occupying the top two places produced an absorbing, high intensity contest, with Bann edging the first half exchanges but unable to build on their single point interval lead despite turning round to enjoy the second half wind.

Bann coach Simon McKinstry said his side’s problem was one of consistency, or rather the lack of it. “We were really good for the first 40 minutes – if we’d played as well in the second half as we did in the first we’d have won,” he lamented after the game. “It’s as simple as that. But the momentum changed at the start of the second half, we didn’t make use of the wind to keep Malone pinned back in their own half and after they went ahead we were unable to get back into the game.”

Bann conceded seven penalties at the set scrums, where they seemed continually to fall on the wrong side of the referee’s interpretation and application of the laws. McKinstry said he doubted if a Bann side had ever given away as many penalties at the scrum. But he was reluctant to use that as an excuse for the defeat, instead pointing out his players’ failure to hold onto the ball and a tactical naivety as key factors in the defeat.

After Rory Campbell’s penalty had given the home side a 10thminute lead Bann began to exert pressure on the Malone line. And patience and persistence paid off 10 minutes later, with Adam Doherty’s long floated pass finding Peter Cromie on the left flank for the hooker to dive over for the opening try.

Campbell’s second success off the tee edged his side a point ahead but lock Caleb Montgomery finished off after another multi-phase Bann attack and finally some slick off-loading from Peter Cromie and Hugo Harbinson, with Doherty’s fine conversion taking the scoreline to 6-12.

A late first half onslaught on the visitors’ line was repelled by some gutsy defensive work, only for Bann to concede an eminently kickable penalty at a ruck. But when Malone winger Andy Bryans came through to take out Montgomery after the whistle, initiating a brief skirmish between the packs, the referee decided after consultation to yellow card the offending player and reverse the penalty decision.

With injury time being played that should have allowed Bann to go into the interval with a healthy six point cushion. Instead they botched the lineout which followed the penalty, gifting possession to the opposition at the tail. And given another bite at the cherry Malone made it count as centre Nathan Brown crossed at the corner flag for an 11-12 scoreline.

Those scrum problems gave Campbell two more shots at the posts which he converted for a 17-12 lead on the hour. And when Bann coughed up possession on the Malone “22”, a speculative punt downfield took a kindly bounce which saw the home side regain possession deep in Bann territory. The ball was moved left and then right where Malone found the space to put prop Peter Cooper in for a try at the corner flag.

Bann’s frantic efforts in the closing stages won them two penalty opportunities. When the first one failed to yield any points off the lineout option, skipper Michael Cromie opted for Doherty to take the tee at the second and the full-back obliged with the kick that earned his side a losing bonus point.

The Malone management team was relieved, after three seasons without a win against the Rifle Park side, to have, as they put it, ‘got the monkey off our backs’. But for McKinstry it was another lost opportunity to stake a serious claim to the Division 1B title. “I suppose we should be thankful to have picked up a bonus point having gone ten points behind with ten minutes to play. But the fact is we scored two fine tries in the first half, turned round with the wind and had thoughts of picking up another couple of tries. Credit to Malone, they worked hard to get back into the game and took their chances. But for us it was another big disappointment. We had a lot of knock-ons and unforced errors on what was a good day for playing rugby.

“We have Ballynahinch coming up on Saturday and that’s another tough one,” he said. “But we’re still in the hunt and as long as that’s the case we’ll be battling for every point.”

Bann team v Malone:- Adam Doherty, Conor Field, Andrew Morrison, Jonny Little, Hugo Harbinson, Josh Cromie, Jonny Stewart, Michael Cromie (Capt), Peter Cromie, Stuart Cromie, Alex Thompson, Caleb Montgomery, Greg Jones, David McCann, Stephen Irvine. Replacements:- Corrie Barrett, Callum Reid, Chris Allen, Ethan Harbinson, Ian Porter.