BANBRIDGE 29 MALONE 27
‘Positive if not perfect’ was how Coach Daniel Soper’s summed up his side’s performance in their first league outing of the season.
A late Peter Cromie try saw the Rifle Park side overhaul Malone for a bonus point Ulster Premiership League win. And Soper was pleased with the character his charges showed in battling back from what had looked like a losing position.
“It was never going to be perfect but I was very pleased to get the win,” he said, “It was a good start and it puts down a marker for this league. Our main focus is always going to be on the Ulster Bank (All-Ireland) League but if we can do well in this one then it can only feed into our AIL campaign.”
Bann opened the scoring with the hard-working Matthew Laird going over from close range after Bann had won a lineout close to the Malone line. Out-half Josh Pentland replied for the visitors with Rory Campbell’s conversion edging them ahead.
The lead continued to change hands with Robin Sinton crossing for the home side, with Adam Doherty adding the extras before prop Ben Halliday picked up Malone’s second try, with Campbell’s second success off the tee giving his side a 12-14 interval lead.
The Malone winger extended his side’s advantage to nine points when he converted his own try early in the second half but Bann stayed in touch thanks to a Ross Cartmill try, converted by Doherty.
Two Campbell penalties looked like seeing the Belfast side home but again Bann retaliated, with Andrew Kirkwood rounding off an impressive personal display with an unconverted touchdown before Cromie’s last gasp effort, which left Malone with just a losing bonus point for their contribution to an entertaining game.
With six of last season’s backline unavailable for the game, Soper had the chance to take a look at a number of players vying for places in this season’s starting line-up. And he was pleased with what he saw. “I thought (scrum-half) Jason Gribbon impressed in his first game back at the club. Ross Cartmill in the centre, playing his first game of senior rugby – he did very well.
“Andrew Kirkwood was playing his first game after a long-term injury and he showed up well too. And up front Matthew Laird, in his first outing for the Firsts in quite a while was always in the thick of the action.
“We have a number of players coming back next week so that performance means we have a bit more choice from a bigger squad.
“The win was important in that the Premiership League matches later in the season will mean something and it will that much easier to get the players motivated for them.”
Bann team against Malone:- Andrew Kirkwood, Zac Chambers, Ben Carson, Ross Cartmill, Josh Agnew, Adam Doherty, Jason Gribbon, Jonny Weir, Peter Cromie, Ross Haughey, Chris Allen, Kallan Martin, Matthew Laird, Ryan Hughes, Stephen Irvine (Capt). Replacements:- Stuart Cromie, Robin Sinton, Daniel McElderry.