BANBRIDGE 27 NAVAN 17
Another bonus point win for Banbridge saw the Rifle Park side move up into third place in Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League.
Perhaps, given Navan’s position at the bottom of the table and a record of nine defeats in their previous ten games, a home win might have been the obvious outcome. But Bann knew how hard they had been made to work for their 22-24 success in the reverse fixture before Christmas and they were expecting another tough examination, even with home advantage.
Home Coach Mark McDowell said that he knew the visitors would throw everything at his side to try to pick up the second league win that might spark a revival in their fortunes. And after the match he expressed his delight that his side had come out on top and picked up the four-try bonus point.
“I was hugely pleased that we got back to winning ways after that defeat at Armagh,” he said. “Navan were a credit to themselves and the club the way they kept playing throughout the game, kept trying to find a way to win.”
The home side had registered the first of their four first half tries after just 30 seconds, scrum-half Jonny Stewart’s charge-down of an attempted clearance picked up and touched down by winger John Porter, with out-half Bruce Houston adding the conversion.
Navan hit back eight minutes later, mauling the ball over from a lineout on the home “22” with disconcerting ease, with hooker Shane Faulkner applying the finishing touch for a try that went unconverted.
Houston’s accurate line kick set up a 5-metre lineout in the 9th minute and after Ryan Hughes had punched through the defence, the out-half weaved his way through the Navan ranks to set up the ruck from which hooker Peter Cromie burrowed his way over the try line, with Houston adding the extras.
And it was Houston’s vision that set up Bann’s third, with his long pass finding Adam Doherty who put Porter in for his second try.
Doherty’s counter-attack provided the stimulus for the bonus point touchdown, with the threequarters’ slick handling giving Hugo Harbinson possession and the winger’s deft footwork taking him round his opposite number for a touchdown at the corner flag.
At 24-5, that appeared to be that. But a Navan try, off virtually the last play of the half, gave the visitors hope of taking something from the game. The home support may have questioned the referee’s decision to award Navan the put-in when the ball went loose as they attacked the home line. But the visitors made the most of the opportunity, with No 8 Bryan McKeever picking up off the base of the wheeled scrum to saunter in for a try which Ray Moloney bettered off the tee.
“We were very clinical in the first half when we got inside their “22”” added McDowell. “That was missing when we played at Armagh. We felt we were in a good place at half-time. We’d given up that score off the maul and then a soft one at the scrum, but we felt we were still very much in control of the game at that point. The message at half-time was to keep doing what we were doing and stay in control of the game.
“But credit to Navan – they took some of that control away from us in the second half. We started to force things a little and missed a couple of opportunities to get another score. That caused some frustration but thankfully we’d done enough in the first half to see us home.”
Bann were unable to add to their try tally after the break, but a 47th minute Doherty penalty gave them sufficient cushion to see off a Navan side whose 74th minute try, scored by replacement hooker David Clarke, gave unfulfilled hope of salvaging a losing bonus point.
McDowell was impressed by a couple of his players in particular. “I thought Bruce (Houston) played very well, as did Dale Carson, who at 39-years old played the full 80 minutes and put in a tremendous shift at blindside flanker. Bruce attacked the line for that second score – that’s something he’s been working on, so it was good to see him creating that opportunity for us. And his kicking always puts us in good attacking positions – he’s been a great addition to the team this season.
“I was also pleased for our pack today, which apart from Ulster Academy prop Calum Reid, was entirely a club team. Navan brought a big pack and I thought our guys stood up really well to the challenge.
“The lineout was very good and a step in the right direction and that’s a reflection of the hard work put in by (Assistant Coach) Robert Logan and the forwards over the last two weeks – that area was a lot more consistent, which is brilliant. That enabled us to launch quite a few attacks off that.
“We’re known for our accuracy and width in attack so it was good to see our wingers picking up three of the four tries – that’s what we want to see.”
Bann next outing takes them to Dublin on 15th February when Old Belvedere will be hoping to take revenge for a 28-27 defeat inflicted on them at Rifle Park at the end of November.
Bann team v Navan:- Adam Doherty, Hugo Harbinson, Andrew Morrison, Josh Cromie, John Porter, Bruce Houston, Jonny Stewart, Callum Reid, Peter Cromie, Michael Cromie (Capt), Matthew Laird, Max Lyttle, Dale Carson, Ryan Hughes, Robin Sinton. Replacements:- Tim Savage, Ross Haughey, Reuben McCreery, Jason Gribbon, Joe Finnegan.