BALLYNAHINCH 28 BANBRIDGE 19
The final game of Banbridge’s three-match series in preparation for the All-Ireland League ended in defeat to a strong Ballynahinch side at a sunny Ballymacarn Park on Saturday.
But despite the loss Bann coach Daniel Soper was ‘pretty pleased’ with his team’s performance. “I thought we played a lot of good rugby, scored three good tries and just failed to finish off another couple of chances,” he said.
“We were up against a side who play two Divisions above us in the AIL and they fielded a fair number of Ulster-contracted players against us. So I was pleased overall with the way the lads performed.”
Unusually for the Rifle Park side they came under considerable pressure at the set scrum, conceding one pushover try and just saving a second when a score seemed inevitable. But Soper was satisfied that his pack would be ready for any challenges when the AIL kicks off. “’Hinch had two fully-contracted players in the front row and a couple of others in their pack. They showed the obvious benefits of full-time training with their bigger, stronger and more powerful forwards. I don’t anticipate any of the Division 2A teams being able to field a unit like that.”
Bann kicked off the scoring in the 8th minute of Saturday’s friendly, with Adam Ervine finishing off from 5 metres out after centre Jonny Little had cut through a gap in ‘Hinch’s midfield defence outside the home “22”.
‘Hinch squandered a chance two minutes later but as they maintained the pressure they created an overlap to put Aaron Cairns in behind the posts, with out-half Justin Rea adding the straightforward conversion.
Bann regained the lead on 16 minutes through hooker Peter Cromie’s well-worked try, Adam Doherty’s conversion taking the score to 7-12. And the visitors should have gone further ahead after Little again sliced through to make 35 metres before off-loading to Andrew Morrison. He was hauled down a metre short of the line but the support arrived too slowly and Morrison was penalised for holding on after the tackle.
The home pack used their forward strength to put David McIlwaine in for their second try after driving a maul over the line following a 5-metre lineout, with Rea’s conversion giving his side a two point lead with 36 minutes played.
‘Hinch spurned a very kickable penalty chance to opt for a scrum close to the opposition posts but when the ball shot out uncontrolled Bann flanker Richard Graham gathered to feed Ervine who made good ground before chipping deep inside the home “22”. But the cover defence came across to gather and the kick to touch marked the end of the half.
Bann started strongly after the interval but a wayward pass denied Ervine another scoring opportunity before Little stepped inside the defence on the blind side of a ruck to make the try line from 10 metres out, with Doherty adding the points off the tee for a 14-19 lead on 48 minutes.
Five minutes later ‘Hinch went ahead, with No 8 James Simpson controlling the ball at the base of his superior scrum to touch down, with Chris Quinn converting. They should have repeated the trick ten minutes later but the referee came to Bann’s rescue as he penalised the attacking side.
But when Bann were penalised five minutes before the end, the 5-metre lineout initiated another concentrated attack, with McIlwaine finishing off after the Bann defence had again been stretched to breaking point.
Soper said he didn’t expect to see many changes to the starting line-up for the opening AIL game at Malone on Saturday. “Peter Cromie took a whack on the shoulder so we’ll have to assess the extent of the damage done. Ryan Patterson will be available again and he’ll come into the match day squad.
“I thought (flanker) Ethan Harbinson did very well in the 15 minutes he was on the pitch. He was magnificent over the ball and won us two or three penalties in that short time. But he’ll probably be involved with the Ulster U-20s in Connacht.
“Hopefully (winger) John Porter will have recovered from injury so we should be able to field a strong squad at Gibson Park.”