BANN FOURTHS 32 DUNGANNON FOURTHS 31
In what arguably turned out be the match of the day at Rifle Park, the teams served up a 10-try festival of rugby to brighten any dull January Saturday. It wasn’t an open free flowing affair but mostly an explosive hard hitting physical encounter that surely would have registered on the Richter scale.
The 4th XV’s first game of 2020 kicked off with Bann having to resolutely defend deep inside their own half. When they eventually broke out and made progress into the opposition’s “22” they looked sure to convert pressure into a try but for repeated infringements by the Dungannon team. Bann decided to make their hard work count and Jordan Mullan converted a penalty in front of the posts for a deserved early lead. Buoyed by this Bann went straight on the attack with strong carries and inter play between forwards and backs, with Jordan Poots in his usual strong support play going over for a well deserved first try for Bann which Mullan converted.
The Bann team were getting into their swagger but wasted several chances to increase their lead further, with the ferociousness of the hits forcing dropped balls or passes not going to hand. Eventually they managed to maintain and control possession of the ball and Neal Cochrane, making a strong surging run supported by the shoulder of Jonny McCreery, went over for an unconverted try.
The home team continued to dominate with the final phase in finishing not coming off. From these mistakes Bann were caught wrong footed and not being able to change from attack into defence quickly enough allowed the Dungannon team to score two tries, leaving the half-time score 15-12 to the home team.
Unfortunately the sheer physical nature of the encounter had taken its toll on Bann with Nathan Martin having to leave the game during the half with what looked like a nasty shoulder injury.
The second half started as the first, with what could only be described as two mighty heavyweights landing powerful punches. Bann’s lineouts were a strong feature, with Stuart Marshall and the evergreen Paul Cairns ensuring a supply of quality possession. This led to the maul becoming a strong weapon for Bann, which was negated as Dungannon opted not to engage.
This forced Bann into using their backs who were having a great game also with strong tackling and powerful runs. The team welcomed Troy Pinion, Jamie Ewing and Packie Downey who were all making a big impact. Out-half Mullan had to leave the field early with a foot injury, with Downey moving from full-back to replace him and using his powerful boot to keep the Bann team on the front foot. Following good back inter-play Downey’s strong running took him over the line for his side’s third try.
The visitors responded and, following a fortuitous bounce and a farcical collision between two Bann defenders, they reduced the deficit with a converted try.
Strong words from Captain Sam Boyd encouraged Bann onto the attack and in a similar fashion to his previous try Downey touched down a second time, although his effort off the tee was well off target.
Injuries were taking their toll and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep 15 Bann bodies on the field. Boyd had taken a nasty accidental stamp to the knee in the first half but battled through the pain and produced one of his trade mark lifts from the base of the scrum, carrying several opposition players over the line for an unconverted score and a 32-19 scoreline.
With over 10 minutes to play and the injuries mounting it was a question of whether Bann could hold out. Maintaining possession was their best option but with knock-ons and missed tackles they allowed Dungannon to score 12 unanswered points, leaving a single point separating the sides. This led to a tense final few minutes but Bann held on for a hard fought bonus point win.
Fourths Coach Andy Fulton was quick to recognise the character shown by his squad. “I thought the lads deserved the win, no matter how narrow – they left nothing in the tank,” he said after the game. “We had a lot of injuries out there but hopefully nothing too serious. Jordan Poots is having a great first season with the club. He’s solid at the set piece and tireless around the park.
“But the man-of-the-match today has to be Packie Downey. That was his first game of the season but his repertoire of skills got a full airing today and really benefitted the team.”