BANN FOURTHS 39 BALLYCLARE THIRDS 3
On a busy Super Saturday at Rifle Park the Fourths had to shift this Forster Cup first round game to a Banbridge Academy pitch. It had proven to be a difficult week for team selection with unavailability of players wreaking havoc throughout the club. As a result, the Fourths welcomed many of the ‘Mighties’ on board to steady the ship, each one of them adding a tremendous blend of leadership and experience to the youthful squad. Chris Berry was also welcomed back at scrum-half following 10 months out with a serious arm injury and hooker Gareth Briggs was wearing the captain’s armband for the first time this season
The conditions for this clash were atrocious, with heavy rain falling for the duration. However, the performance that Bann produced for the full 80 minutes wouldn’t have suggested as much. There was a tremendous display of running rugby, slick handling and an impressive blend of pace and power.
From the kick off Bann found themselves under pressure for much of the first 15 minutes, at times paying the price for trying to play out of their own territory rather than clearing their lines for a bit of respite. However, in their tightest defensive performance of the season so far, they limited Ballyclare to three points, their out-half converting an easy penalty attempt to give them the lead.
The re-start gave the home side a chance to get some much-needed field position and a tremendous kick chase from Nathan Martin and PJ McNally saw them pulverise the unfortunate recipient of the kick-off. Ballyclare gave Philly Morrison a straight forward penalty attempt and he opened the home side’s account for the afternoon, tieing the scores.
Bann turned the screw on ‘Clare following the restart and the pressure finally told with Jonny Murray winning a fantastic turnover at the breakdown, his first of many for the day. The home side was building the phases nicely, but Ballyclare won a questionable turnover. However it was short lived as McNally combined well with Armstrong on the right wing following a loose pass, Morrison the eventual benefactor as he went over for his first try of the day, adding the extras to take the score to 10-3 to Bann.
Bann received the kick off and again went for the jugular. A tremendous line break from Niall McAlinden, with great support play from Berry, saw Morrison go over in the corner to close the half with his second of the day, leaving Bann 15-3 up.
The half-time chat was positive following a strong first half, and more of the same was the order of the day, with just a little warning to stay on the right side of a strong referee. Needless to say what followed was the most complete 40 minute performance produced by a 4th XV in at least two seasons. To a man they were fantastic, and again a strong defensive performance in the opening stages of the half suitably sickened the visitors.
Bann’s opening score of the half was an early contender for try of the season as the impressive 10, 12, 13 combination of Morrison, McAlinden and Davis produced a sumptuous move to send the pacey and powerful Davis through two would be tacklers and canter in from 35 metres. Again Morrison duly obliged with the boot to take the score to 22-3.
Bann collected the re-start and straight away went back on the war path. Again the tremendous brand of exciting but patient rugby saw them progress into the Ballyclare ‘22’, where scrum half Berry fed Morrison who outstripped the defence to complete his hat-trick before adding the extras.
Ballyclare heads were starting to drop and they were losing the battle with the referee as they started infringing at will and then were vocal in declaring their displeasure to the official. Morrison took advantage of this ill-discipline to put in a near-perfect touch kick, ensuring a lineout for the home side 10 metres out from the line. Bann secured lineout ball and set up a fantastic rolling maul to send the impressive Nathan Martin over in the corner.
Ballyclare were now suggesting they would like to hoist up the white flag. Needless to say, they didn’t get to do so, and the tremendous prop Neil Walker collected their kick-off and proceeded to go on a run any winger or fullback would be proud of. He beat defenders with ease with a tremendous display of power, footwork and even a dummy!! Berry and Morrison made good use of the recycled ball to put Davis clear for his second of the day, capping a great display from the centre. This was the final nail in the ‘Clare coffin and the game was blown up early with the score at 39-3 to Bann.
This really was a phenomenal team effort from 1-18 and the commitment to training is starting to pay off for this tight knit bunch. They are under no illusions as to the quality of opposition remaining in the competition, but they have a great blend of youth and experience, a great group rapport and a commitment that knows no bounds. They will hit training hard again with the aim of improving further and launching an attack on two fronts in the league and cup. Any of the players could have picked up Man of the Match, but the award went to Neil Walker, making his first start of the season for the Fourths , who showed up exceptionally well in the loose and at the set piece, bringing a wealth of experience to proceedings as well.
A word of thanks must go to Brian Leslie for making the playing and changing facilities of Banbridge Academy available to the team.