BANBRIDGE 27 NENAGH 13
Banbridge are still the pace-setters in Division 2A of the All-Ireland League after coming through a testing examination at the hands of a very strong Nenagh side.
Coach Daniel Soper was in no doubt about the basis for his side’s third win from four outings. “That was one of our best-ever defensive displays in the AIL,” he said reflecting on the game.
“Nenagh were as good a team as we’ve played and I thought our defence, especially in the first half, was absolutely tremendous. And we had to defend very, very well to avoid shipping a lot of points before half-time.
“It was easy to see how they beat Queen’s by a big margin, so I’m delighted to have got the win.”
An early interception by centre Andrew Morrison put Bann in a threatening position and when Nenagh were forced to commit a deliberate knock-on Lee Steenson struck the penalty between the posts to open the scoring for the home side.
But then the big visiting pack began to exert their influence and the Bann defence eventually broke down under the intense pressure, allowing centre Derek Corcoran in at the posts for a try which full-back Kolio Hifo bettered.
Bann counter-attacked following a Nenagh knock-on and won a penalty which Steenson converted from 34 metres to reduce the leeway to a single point.
But the Nenagh pack was taking every opportunity to bring their driving maul into play and when Bann were penalised in their efforts to halt its progress Hifo was again on target off the tee.
Bann would undoubtedly have been content to go into the break on a 6-10 scoreline considering the balance of play. But three minutes before the break they struck from deep to take the lead. A long clearance kick was kept in play by Shandon Scott just outside his team’s “22”. He linked with Steenson and the scrum half’s pass to Morrison set the centre off on 45 metre run between two flailing Nenagh tacklers and inside the opposition “22”. As the final defender closed Peter Cromie was on hand to take the pass and score under the posts, with Steenson converting for a 13-10 lead.
Hifo’s second penalty tied the scores after flanker Richard Graham had been yellow-carded for offending at a ruck in front of his posts, but that was to prove the visitors’ last contribution to the scoreline as the home side’s greater mobility began to tell.
Chris Allen produced a great ‘steal’ at a maul to allow Steenson to clear but Nenagh came back on the attack only to knock on just inside Bann’s half. John Porter pounced on the loose ball, deftly picking up and setting off on a 55 metre run to the try line with defenders in vain pursuit. Steenson again split the uprights with the conversion.
For the next seven minutes Bann were on the rack as Nenagh battled to get back on level terms. But the defence proved unyielding as the visitors’ strongest runners were time and again taken out at the ankles.
The clinching score came ten minutes from the end. Stephen Irvine ripped the ball from the opposition at a midfield maul and broke through the first tackle before off-loading to Graham. He drew the last defender to put Porter in the clear from 33 metres out. Scott had taken over the kicking duties from the replaced Steenson and his successful conversion left Nenagh too much to do in the time remaining.
Soper singled out Irvine for praise but also underlined the overall squad effort. “In every game Stephen is the best forward on the field from both teams. And he showed that sort of form again today with his carries and work around the pitch.
“But again we used our full squad during the game and all 20 players contributed to this win. No matter what replacements we introduced there was no let-up in passion or commitment. It’s our ability to score out of nothing that makes us dangerous and has allowed us to achieve our points target set for the first set of four games.”
Bann team v Nenagh:- Miles O’Hagan, John Porter, Andrew Morrison, Jonny Little, Clark McAllister, Shandon Scott, Lee Steenson, Stuart Cromie, Peter Cromie, James McCrum, Chris Allen, Kallan Martin, Mike Bentley, Richard Graham, Stephen Irvine. Replacements:- Fraser Mulholland, Thomas Carlisle, Alan Conn , Josh Cromie, James Andrews.