Match Centre - February 29, 2020 - 2:30 pm

All Ireland League 

Naas RFC
Banbridge RFCBanbridge RFC 1sts XV

@ Forenaughts

Match Details

NAAS   3      BANBRIDGE   6

Banbridge Coach Mark McDowell had described this game at Naas as being ‘a huge fixture’ for his team after their back-to-back defeats in the previous two outings.

And his squad duly rose to the occasion in what can only be described as horrendous playing conditions. The forecasters had got it spot on – heavy rain and gale force winds were the order of the afternoon, with both teams trying manfully (even if the term’s not PC!) but ultimately failing to overcome them.

Bann eventually prevailed, if not over the elements, but over a Naas side that desperately wanted to win in their battle to get away from the relegation play-off position near the bottom of Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League. But it was touch-and-go right up to the final whistle as the biting wind and wet conditions were making errors increasingly difficult to avoid.

McDowell was delighted, and relieved, to have picked up the win, his side’s second away from home this season. “I thought the conditions at Old Belvedere a couple of weeks ago were bad. But they were nothing compared to what was out there today,” he commented after the game. “It was extremely difficult for both teams and all the players involved deserve credit for sticking to the task.”

That the Rifle Park side made it through to claim the four points can be attributed to their superior fitness levels. Naas had opted to play into the strong wind in the first half, a decision that seemed to have been vindicated when half-time arrived with them just trailing on a 0-3 scoreline. Bann had spent 90% of the first 40 minutes in the Naas half, but despite being awarded a number of penalties, especially in the opening 15 minutes, which set them up in strong attacking positions, they just couldn’t find a way to break through the home defence.

Out-half Bruce Houston did well to find the target with a 30 metre penalty attempt in the 6th minute but unsurprisingly, given the wind, was unable to repeat the trick 10 minutes later. Lineouts were no guarantee of possession for either side and another such set piece five metres out from the Naas line fell into opposition hands, allowing them to avert the immediate danger.

The ability of the home side to retain possession through numerous, prolonged phases allowed them to see out the half without conceding any more points and both squads retreated to the changing rooms for half-time shelter from the elements.

The second half resumed with play inevitably focussed on the same half of the pitch, with Naas now in attacking mode and Bann having to draw on all their defensive qualities to keep their line intact. It says much for the visitors’ discipline that they conceded just one kickable penalty in the second half. That was converted by Peter Osborne 15 minutes from the end to set up a tense finale.

But in defiance of the elements and contrary to everything that had gone on up to that point, much of the rest of the game was played out in the home half as the Bann forwards set about imposing themselves through a strong pick and go game. Patiently and resolutely they worked their way into the Naas “22” to earn a penalty.

With Houston having withdrawn from the action, Adam Doherty took over the kicking duties. A well-struck ball seemed to be heading for the posts only to be held out by the wind, allowing Naas to clear. But the Bann forward machine kicked into action again and with a try looking on the cards, a Naas player infringed. He was yellow-carded and from closer to the posts Doherty struck the kick between the uprights, leaving his side to see out the five minutes remaining without letting Naas back within striking distance.

McDowell acknowledged the significance of the win. “Yes, it was disappointing not to have made more of the possession and territory we enjoyed in the first half. But I thought the guys showed great guts and resilience after the interval and then to kick on and dominate those exchanges in the final quarter hour – well I think that says a lot about this squad of players.

“It was very important to get that win given the quality of the sides that we play in the last four games. But the win will have done a lot for confidence, whereas next up we face a Shannon side who lost at Armagh today. We can expect a reaction from them to that result but the lads know what they’re capable of – they know that they can produce a result regardless of the conditions and we’ll certainly travel with positive intent.”