ACADEMY 10 BANN SECONDS 10
The overnight rain had made Academy’s Mallusk pitch more suited to the home forwards, with the young Bann eight heavily disadvantaged in terms of total poundage. Despite that the visitors still had enough possession to have picked up four Conference League points from Saturday’s game, but in the end they had to settle for an equal share.
And according to Coach Colin Bickerstaff it was all part of the learning process for his charges. “We didn’t adapt very well to the conditions,” he said. “We’re maybe still a bit green. We’ve a particular way that we want to play and on days like today, when we come away from home to play on a pitch like that, we’re a bit slow to change our game to suit. We need to play what’s in front of us some weeks.”
Certainly the Bann scrum was under the cosh in the first half and perhaps fortunate that the referee didn’t produce his yellow card given the number of penalties conceded at the set piece. Eventually however the pressure told, with the match official running behind the posts midway through the first half to award Academy a penalty try.
After the re-start drop-out went into touch on the bounce, Academy’s throw-in was deemed to be crooked and unsurprisingly Bann opted for the lineout rather than the scrum. The consequent maul was being driven towards the home line when Bann were pinged for accidental off-side. Academy opted to run the ball off the set piece but when their centre dropped it, Ross Cartmill reacted quickly to scoop it up and drive towards the try line.
The recycled ball was moved infield and lock Max Lyttle ran a lovely line to crash in at the posts, with Aaron Kennedy’s conversion tying the scores.
Whether it was as a result of some adjustments made by the Bann pack or the referee’s more rigorous assessment of the Academy front row’s technique, those set piece problems had been sorted out by the time the second half started, allowing the visitors to exert some pressure on the Academy defence and forcing them to cough up a kickable penalty five minutes after the break.
Kennedy would have been disappointed to see his effort off the tee go wide of the upright. But he had a chance to redeem himself seven minutes later after flanker James Cromie’s off-load had sent No 8 Reuben McCreery off on a bullocking run into the Academy half. This time Kennedy made no mistake from 40 metres out, giving his side a lead which they should really have built on given the amount of possession they enjoyed during the remaining 28 minutes.
But they had a tendency to kick when holding onto the ball might have been the better option. And when Academy made a rare foray into the Bann “22”, they were gifted an easy penalty opportunity which they converted to draw level.
Kennedy was just off-target with a last-minute penalty shot from out wide, leaving Bann to rue those missed chances to put the game to bed.
“Academy never really looked all that dangerous,” added Bickerstaff. “We looked like we were in control after we sorted out that scrum problem. Just a few things let us down. We were actually on top in a few scrums in the second half, which was good to see. It was good to see young lads sticking at it – they’re young and they’re learning and that’s the important thing.”
Bickerstaff was pleased in particular with the performance of McCreery. “He was very strong coming off the back of the scrum, especially in that first half when our scrum was going backwards – he tidied up very well and made a few good breaks.
“Max Lyttle was formidable again – he got himself about and was quite aggressive. And Alex Megaw was solid in the engine room- he’s only just come back in to the team after being out injured and he formed a good partnership with Max. It’s good to see that bite in the pack.”