Match Centre - April 21, 2018 - 2:30 pm

All Ireland League Semi-Final

Banbridge RFCBanbridge RFC 1sts XV
Ballynahinch RFC

@ Rifle Park

Match Details


A third win this season over fierce local rivals Ballynahinch earned Banbridge a place in the Play-Off Final for promotion to Division 1A of the Ulster Bank League.

The home side’s display bore little resemblance to the defensively efficient, flair-sprinkled attacking performances that had earned them 20-10 and 14-29 wins against the same opposition earlier in the season.

Indeed the losers outscored Bann 3-4 on tries scored – and two of those three were penalty tries. But this win owed everything to sheer guts, a will-to–win and an unshakeable belief in their own ability. With Bann 0-14 behind after 20 minutes and still 12 points in arrears early in the second half, the home supporters had to wait until three minutes from the end to see their team take the lead for the first time in the game.

Amid the euphoria sweeping the hordes of local supporters after the final whistle had brought an end to an epic struggle, Bann coach Daniel Soper said that his team’s win was a reflection of the players’ belief and trust that the way they play will eventually prevail. “There was no panic” he said. “There was no need to do anything outside our normal box of tricks. We just stick to the plan and we’re good enough to haul any team in. And the guys did that pretty well.

“Certainly once we got into our stride in the first half we were rewarded with our two scores. The second half we didn’t get into our stride just as much. We had to do it a different way and I thought our forwards were outstanding in the second half, very physical, absolutely tremendous.”

As has been their experience in recent games Bann were under pressure from the outset with Hinch’s line speed forcing a couple of handling errors which gave them a scrum close to the home line. The ball was moved blindside where Richard Reaney was free to go in for the opening try with just over three minutes played.

Midway through the half ‘Hinch counter-attacked from inside their own 10 metre line and David Busby exchanged passes with Reaney before scorching in for the second try, with Reaney adding the extras on each occasion.

Caleb Montgomery’s aggressive running on the half hour took Bann inside the visitors’ “22” and Eric O’Sullivan’s pass to Greg Jones saw the big No 8 hauled down just short of the posts. But when a defender came in from offside to haul Michael Cromie down the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try.

Busby and Reaney again found space down Bann’s right flank to put the latter in for his second try three minutes before the interval. But crucially Bann had enough time to take advantage of a penalty and set up a five metre lineout, with Conor Field taking an inside pass off the ensuing ruck to stretch over the line for a try that went unconverted.

‘Hinch skipper Aaron Cairns darted in for his team’s fourth try off the base of a ruck six minutes into the second period, but that was to prove his team’s final contribution to the scoreboard.

As the Bann pack began to assert themselves, the pressure on the visitors’ line saw them cough up three penalty chances which James Hume slotted over nervelessly, taking the score to 21-24 with eight minutes left on the clock.

Again the Bann forwards worked their way remorselessly downfield, winning a lineout just outside the “22” as the ‘Hinch defence began to wilt under the strain. Montgomery took a fine ball near the tail and Bann drove the maul within inches of the try line, with a ‘Hinch infringement leaving the referee no option but to award a second penalty try.

The relief among the massive home support was palpable, the cheers resounding  round Rifle Park as their favourites saw out the two and a bit minutes remaining to claim their place in the final.

“All the guys that played contributed very well“, said Soper. “The three props worked very hard, with Stu Cromie coming on for Michael Cromie to pose a different problem for the ‘Hinch front row. I think two of our penalties came from the set scrum. And Mike Bentley worked very hard up front after his introduction in the second half. It was a good squad performance.

“The lads knew that if we’d lost to ‘Hinch today it would have taken some of the shine off our earlier wins against them. I think we proved today that we’re a better team than them. That second half performance showed great resilience, preventing ‘Hinch from adding to their score over the last 35 minutes of the game. That showed the desire of the team.”

Now just UCC stand between Bann and a place in the highest tier of club rugby in Ireland. The scores between the sides in their two previous encounters could not have been closer, with the students coming from 31-10 down to snatch a 31-31 draw at Rifle Park. And then they withstood a Bann fightback less than three weeks ago at the Mardyke to claim a 32-31 bonus point win. Indeed UCC are one of only two sides that Bann have failed to beat in this season’s Ulster Bank League, the other being Division 1B champions Shannon.

“Last time against them we were very disappointed with how we started, including the warm-up. There was some soft defence and they took full advantage of it. They’re a very good side as was shown by their win at St Mary’s in the other semi-final. That shows how big a challenge it’s going to be next weekend.”

Soper was hopeful that all of Saturday’s squad would be fit for selection again, with the unavailable John Porter coming back into the mix as well.

It’s 20 years since Bann won promotion from junior rugby to Division Four of the All-Ireland League. Their rise through the ranks in the period since has been steady. But no-one among the ranks of supporters who watched that promotion-clinching game against Midleton in 1998 could have imagined that their team would now be just one game away from becoming one of the elite ten teams that make up Division 1A of the Ulster Bank League.

If Bann were to accomplish that feat by overcoming UCC on Saturday at Rifle Park, it would rate as one of the greatest ever achievements in local sport.

Kick-off on Saturday is at 2.30pm and another bumper crowd is expected to cheer on the locals.

Bann team v Ballynahinch:- Adam Ervine (Capt), Conor Field, Andrew Morrison, James Hume, Ben Carson, Jonny Little, Jason Gribbon, Eric O’Sullivan, Peter Cromie, Michael Cromie, Chris Allen, Stephen Irvine, Caleb Montgomery, Nic Hayes, Greg Jones. Replacements:- Johnny Weir, Stuart Cromie, Mike Bentley, Ryan Hughes, Robin Sinton, Neil Kilpatrick, Ross Cartmill.