BANBRIDGE 28 HIGHFIELD 42
Banbridge never recovered from the two-try salvo with which visitors Highfield hit them in the opening seven minutes of this Energia All-Ireland League game.
Bann Coach Mark McDowell said that his team had been beaten by a very good Highfield side, with the main difference between the teams being the opposition’s ability to put away their chances. “They were a big physical side who also showed the ability to move the ball at times,” he commented. “They were very clinical with any opportunities they got.”
Good support play put Highfield centre Mark Dorgan in at the posts with just five minutes played, with out-half Shane O’Riordan adding the conversion.
And worse was to follow just two minutes later when Highfield No 8 Miah Cronin intercepted a Bann pass on halfway and proved to have the pace to take him to within inches of the line before being brought down, leaving him an easy stretch for a second try to which his No 10 added the extras.
Disaster almost struck again when Highfield again intercepted in the 10th minute, but the scrambling defence hauled the interceptor down short of the line.
Bann came more into the game as the half progressed but it took numerous phases before they were able to break down the Highfield defence, No 8 Stephen Irvine picking up from a ruck and taking route one to the try line in the 35th minute, with Adam Doherty converting.
That should have left the home side in more positive mood going into the second half. But by the break Highfield had restored the 14 point gap which Bann were never again able to narrow, with slack defence letting winger Colin O’Neill in for the first of what would prove to be a hat-trick of touchdowns.
And that lead was stretched by another seven-pointer three minutes into the second half when O’Neill was put clear of an overstretched home defence.
While the Bann scrum defence had fallen foul of the referee the previous week, there were no such problems against a physically impressive Highfield eight. And when Bann won a scrum five metres out from the Cork side’s line in the 46th minute, they were only prevented from scoring by illegal means, prompting the match official to award a penalty try for a 14-28 scoreline.
But Bann’s efforts to contain another onslaught by the bruising Highfield forwards left them exposed on the flanks and O’Neill fielded a tidy crossfield kick to complete his hat-trick with 55 minutes on the clock.
Bann responded again, flanker Ryan Hughes finding a gaping hole in the visitors’ lines to saunter to the posts from 15 metres out, with replacement scrum-half Aaron Kennedy’s conversion leaving his side on the wrong end of a 21-35 scoreline with ten minutes remaining.
A fourth converted try at this stage would have taken Bann within seven points and earned them two bonus points. But instead they went further behind, with left winger Paul Stack popping up on the opposite flank to cross for his side’s sixth try.
Bann’s determination to get some tangible reward for their efforts saw them stage a final assault on the visitors’ line. Skipper Michael Cromie thought he had touched down for the vital fourth try only to be penalised for a double movement. But from the last play of the game, a doggedly determined carry by Irvine took him over for the try which, despite two defeats, keeps the Rifle Park side off the bottom of the league table.
“I thought the players showed a lot of character to get that fourth try at the end”, said McDowell. “And the bonus point that earned could well prove very useful come later in the year. We were very pleased to get that.
“I believe we did a lot of good things in attack – that penalty try at scrum time was something that earlier on in the week we mightn’t have expected and I think the forwards deserve major kudos for that.
“Highfield are a very good side and I think they’ll be challenging for the league towards the end of the season. So it wasn’t a very negative performance from us. Our biggest issue is we entered their “22” four times and either got turned over or coughed up possession. That was key at different moments of the game. Working very hard to get back to 7-14 and then giving up a try to go 7-21 down just before half-time was a bit of a hammer blow as well.
“There was no lack of effort or lack of physicality – we just came up against a better side on the day. Going 0-14 down so early against a team like that, it’s always going to be hard to get back into a position to win the game.”
McDowell gave credit to forwards coach Rob Logan for the big improvement at the set piece, particularly at scrum time. “Rob is building a very hard-working pack and he’s been working hard at both the lineout and the scrum alongside the forwards that played, so he deserves the plaudits for that.”
This Saturday Bann travel to take on Malone, who like Bann have a ‘played two-lost two’ record, with that bonus point from Saturday just putting the Rifle Park men above their city rivals in the league table.
“This is an Ulster derby that was always going to have a bit of spice to it but probably has even more now,” added McDowell. “A big week at training is required, but I know the players will have no problem getting their teeth stuck into that. We’re really looking forward to the challenge of going to Gibson Park and trying to put Malone under a bit of pressure.”
Bann team v Highfield:- Adam Doherty, Conor Field, Andrew Morrison, Jonny Little, Hugo Harbinson, Josh Cromie, Neil Kilpatrick, Michael Cromie (Capt), Peter Cromie, Ross Haughey, Matthew Laird, Robin Sinton, Dale Carson, Ryan Hughes, Stephen Irvine. Replacements:- Tim Savage, Robbie Mathers, Martin Vorster, Aaron Kennedy, Joe Finnegan.