Match Centre - December 7, 2019 - 2:30 pm

All Ireland League 

Navan RFC
Banbridge RFCBanbridge RFC 1sts XV

@ Navan RFC-Balreask Old

Match Details

NAVAN   22      BANBRIDGE   24

There’s an adage that has become popular in sporting circles – ‘the harder we work the luckier we get’. If it’s true then Bann must have worked their socks off in training in the week prior to this, their eighth Energia All-Ireland League game of the season.

Facing a Navan team with just a solitary league point against their name, the Rifle Park side, hoping to build on an impressive bonus point win over Old Belvedere the previous Saturday, instead found themselves 15 points in arrears after 24 minutes of the first half.

That they eventually rallied to earn a second successive bonus point win owed something to their resilience and character, as Coach Mark McDowell was keen to point out in his after-match comments, but also much to the fact that the home side had at one stage been reduced to 12 men after three of their side had been sin-binned.

“A really, really tough game,” said McDowell. “And full credit to Navan – they brought everything to the game. They started exceptionally well whereas we were uncharacteristically slow to start. The last couple of games we’ve been out of the blocks quickly but not today.”

That bright start saw the home side take advantage of an overthrown Bann lineout and some slack tackling to run in a try from centre Kyle Dixon off skipper Conor Ryan’s bullocking run, followed by lock Darragh Magee’s touchdown which Colm O’Reilly bettered off the tee.

With the home side making astute use of the wind to remain in the driving seat, Bann were forced to concede a penalty in front of the posts which O’Reilly converted to take his side three scores clear.

Bann gradually began to claim some positive field position and a penalty gave them a lineout close to the home line, the surging maul being rounded off by lock Max Lyttle’s touchdown in the corner, with Bruce Houston striking a superb conversion into the wind.

That score on the half-hour provided the basis for a fightback, and it was given momentum five minutes later with the first of those yellow cards. Two minutes later and Navan were down to 13 men and Bann took full advantage, with skipper Michael Cromie claiming the touchdown after the Bann pack had again driven over the line off quality lineout ball.

The home supporters had shown their indignation at seeing their side being reduced to 13 men, so when the third yellow card followed before the half was up, their resentment at the match official’s decisions reached a crescendo. Bann duly set up the lineout from the penalty and skipper Cromie was again the finisher to see his side change ends with an unlikely and arguably undeserved 15-17 lead.

Navan were still not back at numerically full strength when centre Riaan van der Vyvyer, who posed a threat throughout the game, crossed for his side’s third try in the 46th minute, with O’Reilly’s conversion taking his side 22-17 in front.

Bann had the edge over the next half hour, but despite a number of prolonged attacks featuring multiple phases, they were initially unable to break down the Navan defence. Eventually however the pressure told, with hooker Peter Cromie finishing off and Houston converting to take Bann two points clear.

That should have sealed it, especially when Navan’s re-start drop-out failed to make the 10 metre line, giving Bann a scrum on halfway. But a penalty led to a Navan lineout on Bann’s “22” and a second penalty earned the home side a very kickable penalty opportunity. Strangely that chance was turned down in favour of a kick to touch and another lineout, this time five metres out.

But a last chance drop goal attempt was charged down and, much to the relief of the visiting supporters, the referee blew the final whistle.

“We seem to want to give the crowd an exciting finish,” said McDowell. “We let them back into the game again through those two penalties, but thankfully after what seemed like fifteen or so phases on our goal-line, Neil Kilpatrick managed to block their drop-goal attempt.

“This was a hugely important win for us, especially away from home and when you’re not playing at your best. Defensively we had a few issues that they were able to exploit. That was a big five points for us today, but we’ll certainly need to be better than we showed for large parts today, when we play Armagh next week.

“We had dominance today at the set piece, especially the lineout, and we made that count, doing damage off the mauls. It was character and courage that got us back into that game today after going 15 points down. We made life incredibly difficult for ourselves but sometimes you have to dig in to win games like that.”

Bann team v Navan:- Jason Gribbon, John Porter, Andrew Morrison, Josh Cromie, Ben Lavery, Bruce Houston, Jonny Stewart, Callum Reid, Peter Cromie, Michael Cromie (Capt), Max Lyttle, Dave O’Connor, Reuben McCreery, Robin Sinton, Greg Jones. Replacements:- Tim Savage, Stuart Cromie, James Cromie, Neil Kilpatrick, Joe Finnegan.