NAAS 31 BANBRIDGE 40
Banbridge recorded another bonus point win to stay in the chase for the top spot in Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League, the prize for which will be automatic promotion to the top tier of Irish club rugby.
Playing some outstanding rugby during the game, Bann were still pushed all the way by a Naas side battling to avoid a play-off at the other end of the table. The try tally of 4-5 at the end of the game tells its own story and the home side was unfortunate to only salvage a single point for their contribution to a thrilling match.
Bann coach Daniel Soper was in jubilant form after the game, even if his delight was later tempered somewhat by the news coming through of Ballynahinch’s five-pointer at home to Dolphin, which keeps the Ballymacarn Park side a single point ahead of their County rivals.
“I’m delighted to get the five points,” he said after the game. “Some of our attack play was first class on a nice dry day that obviously suited us. It was typical of a Bann-Naas game that always produces those sorts of matches with the game going to and fro.
“The way we played with the ball was very pleasing and I thought we were deserving of the win and the bonus point. Some of our defensive play wasn’t great and leaves room for improvement but Naas are a good side and it was pretty tough.”
A Peter Osborne penalty gave the home side a three point lead in the 3rd minute but Bann were soon on the attack and Stephen Irvine just lost control of the ball as he tried to touch down after James Hume had broken through the Naas midfield.
But the clearance kick off the defensive scrum was run back by Adam Doherty and two phases later Andrew Morrison picked up and raced in untouched down the narrow side for the first try of the game with eight minutes played.
The response was swift, with Naas working off a five metre lineout to put flanker Cillian Dempsey in for a score which Osborne bettered, with a Doherty penalty taking the score to 10-8 with 16 minutes played.
Hume again opened up the Naas defence to set Peter Cromie off on a run to the line but John Porter just failed to hold onto the hooker’s off-load. But with Naas unable to find a way out of their own half the incessant Bann pressure eventually paid off when Michael Cromie picked up from a ruck to break through a tackle and make the try line, with Doherty converting.
Despite all that possession and territory it was Bann who changed ends in arrears, with Osborne’s try and conversion edging his side 17-15 ahead at the break.
An exhilarating spell of rugby at the start of the second half produced three tries in nine minutes for the visitors. Three minutes in Porter intercepted a Naas pass and sprinted the 55 metres to touch down under the posts, Doherty adding the extras.
Morrison collected the re-start and Naas were unable to get their hands on the ball again before Doherty picked up from a ruck and touched down after strong runs from Conor Field, Morrison and Nick Hayes had taken play up to the home line. Doherty struck a fine conversion from out wide.
Five minutes later Porter gathered a kick inside his own 10 metre line and initiated a flowing movement that ended twelve passes later with the right winger giving the scoring pass to Morrison.
With Bann in such dominant form surely there was no way back for the home side. But back they came, with scrum-half Max Whittingham capitalising on a slip-up at the base of the visitors’ scrum to grab his side’s third try, which Osborne converted.
Doherty’s second penalty opened the gap up to 13 points but Dempsey’s second try, converted by Osborne, made it a single score game with eight minutes left on the clock. Doherty struck over a third penalty to give his side a cushion and Naas just failed to pick up a losing bonus point when a last ditch drop goal attempt went wide.
“It’s hard to believe that the team we played today are fighting to keep themselves above that 9th position and a promotion/relegation play-off,” said Soper. “No one team has dominated this league and even bottom team Dolphin have not been hammered on any occasion.”
The Bann coach recognised the contribution of the representative players in the Bann team. “I was pleased with how the guys coming into the team did today. James (Hume) has not played much rugby this season at all, let alone for us, and I thought he had an excellent performance. And Tom O’Toole has been away a lot with the Ireland U-20s but he slotted in nicely. And Caleb (Montgomery) and Greg have been in and out of the side but they had their best games for us out there today.
“But there were some excellent performances from our more regular players. Andrew Morrison got another couple of tries – he just knows how to get himself in position to score. Stephen Irvine was very physical up-front again and I thought the three Cromies in the front row, Michael, Peter and Stuart, all contributed a lot.”
Banns play their penultimate game at UCC on Saturday week, with UL Bohemians coming to Rifle Park on the 14th April for the last of the 18 scheduled matches. The results in the final two weeks of the season will determine whether the Rifle Park lads repeat their league winning heroics of last season or go into the promotion play-offs.
Bann team v Naas:- Adam Doherty, John Porter, Andrew Morrison, James Hume, Adam Ervine (Capt), , Jonny Little, Jason Gribbon, Michael Cromie, Peter Cromie, Tom O’Toole, Chris Allen, Stephen Irvine, Caleb Montgomery, Nic Hayes, Greg Jones. Replacements:- Jonny Weir, Stuart Cromie, Mike Bentley, Neil Kilpatrick, Conor Field.