Match Centre - November 30, 2019 - 2:30 pm

All Ireland League 

Banbridge RFCBanbridge RFC 1sts XV
Old Belvedere

@ Rifle Park

Match Details


Banbridge eventually emerged with maximum points from a game book-ended by a thrilling ten minute opening spell and a nail-biting final ten minutes.

“That was a great game between two very good sides, “said Bann Coach Mark McDowell. “It was a great advert for All-Ireland 1B, showing how competitive the league is. We’re delighted to come out on the right side of the result. Despite it being such a close game we feel that we deserved to take it in the end.

“We took our chances when they came. We had to deal with a number of personnel changes during the 80 minutes, re-configuring our line-up at key times. But it was a testament to how strong our squad is that we were able to come through it.”

That whirlwind start saw them pick up two tries for a 14 point lead as Old Belvedere struggled to contain an attack fuelled by a supply of quick ruck ball.

The visitors hadn’t managed to get out of their own “22” by the time No 8 Greg Jones collected Michael Cromie’s neat inside pass to cross under the posts, with Bruce Houston adding the conversion.

Centre Andrew Morrison’s 50 metre break took play back into opposition territory after the re-start and working off that field position Bann went through the phases, eventually giving Hugo Harbinson a glimpse of space out on the flank. The winger stepped inside the last tackler to touch down out wide, with Houston again showing his ability off the tee.

That should have been the platform on which Bann could build, but possession and territory belonged to Belvedere for much of the remainder of the first half. Scrum-half Marcus Walsh rounded off a series of pick-and-goes by his forwards by nipping over the line from close range, with Steve Crosbie adding the conversion  and it was only dogged defence that kept Bann from conceding a second try in the 20 minutes that followed.

The visitors did get two penalty opportunities during that time, but usually reliable kicker Crosbie was only able to convert one and Bann looked likely to take a 14-10 lead into the break.

Then with Bann attacking on halfway as the half came to a close, winger James McKeown intercepted and sprinted home, with Crosbie’s conversion leaving Bann three points in arrears at the interval.

Houston’s 49th minute penalty attempt was off-target but at the other end John Porter picked up a yellow card and Crosbie slotted over for a 14-20 lead.

But with Bann back at full strength they attacked the visitors’ line, winning a penalty which Houston kicked to the corner for an attacking lineout. Prop Callum Reid made the initial surge at the line and when he was stopped short Peter Cromie took a short pass off the recycled ball to crash over for a try which Houston bettered for a 21-20 lead.

Nine minutes later Bann were eight points up. Morrison pulled the ball out of a maul on halfway and sprinted clear of the chasing Belvedere defence to mark his 150th AIL appearance in the best possible way, scoring the bonus point, and ultimately, match-winning try.

The visitors hit back with their lively backs setting up Walsh for his second try, with Crosbie’s conversion leaving that single point separating the teams.

And the last ten minutes saw Belvedere throwing everything into attack, with the intense pressure on the Bann line only relieved when a pass was knocked on. With scrum-half Jonny Stewart marshalling his pack, Bann were able to see out the three minutes of injury time remaining by retaining possession before the ball was despatched to the crowd.

“We’d done a good bit of prep on what Belvo were going to bring, “said McDowell. “In that first ten minutes when we went 14 points up we executed everything that we’d worked on during the week. After that we became a little bit indisciplined, starting to get on the wrong side of the penalty count which let them into the game. They were able to grab the momentum and run with it.

“We need to learn that when we get those fast starts not to let our discipline let us down. Belvo were a bit bigger in the tight five area – that was very much their strength. We felt that our conditioning would play a part in the game and we needed to be in contention around the hour mark to give us an opportunity to put it away.

“Unfortunately then we conceded that late try – I don’t think I’ll enjoy the video of that – but Belvo are a good side and they weren’t going to give up. What was most pleasing was the last 2-3 minutes where we managed to just keep the ball and not give them the chance to have a last play. That was down to the pack and the nous and experience that Jonny Stewart brings. I thought he and Bruce Houston controlled the game well.”

McDowell was pleased with the performance of two of his younger players. “I thought Max Lyttle in his first start in the First XV did really well – second row is not an easy position to be starting in AIL 1B but he showed good physicality. It was also good to see Reuben McCreery get 15 minutes of AIL experience. These two guys have been playing week in-week out for the Seconds but they’ve shown they can make the step up when required. That’s going to be important for us going forward.”

This Saturday travel to bottom-of-the-table Navan. But McDowell said his side’s preparation would be exactly the same as for the Belvedere game. “No game away from home is easy. If this isn’t a season-defining game for Navan then it’s not far off that. We’re under no illusions about the challenge facing us. We treat all teams with the same respect.”

Bann team v Old Belvedere:- Joe Finnegan, Ross Cartmill, Andrew Morrison, Josh Cromie, Hugo Harbinson, Bruce Houston, Jonny Stewart, Callum Reid, John Andrew, Michael Cromie (Capt), Max Lyttle, Dave O’Connor, Robin Sinton, Peter Cromie, Greg Jones. Replacements:- Stuart Cromie, Dale Carson, Reuben McCreery, Neil Kilpatrick, John Porter.