BANN THIRDS 26 DUNGANNON THIRDS 10
A well settled Bann Thirds took on a relatively unknown Dungannon 3rd XV on Saturday in the quarter final of the Crawford Plate, with Storm Dennis doing its best to disrupt proceedings.
After what Team Manager Andrew Craig described as a “hugely impressive and dogged performance”, Bann emerged with the win that takes them into the Plate semis.
Right from the kick off Dungannon showed their intent and willingness to attack Banbridge and move the ball but for large parts of the opening 20 minutes the Bann defence held firm with some excellent defensive work led by Robin Thompson and Willy Taylor. During this time Bann found themselves on the wrong end of a penalty decision and Dungannon took advantage of the wind to slot home the penalty and open the scoring.
This lifted the Bann heads somewhat as they now began to build phases from their own “22” and slowly march their way down the pitch with strong carries from Jonny McCreery and Matthew Bell. A half break from Cameron Martin found Banbridge just about to enter the Dungannon “22”. But a handling error with the slippy ball turned over possession to the Dungannon winger who was able to pick it up and find space in behind the home defence with a neat little chip, following up to hack over the line and touch down . The conversion left Banbridge with a ten point deficit to overcome.
Again Bann began to build through the phases with some excellent ground work from both Jonny McIntosh and Paul McNally, who kept putting the Dungannon defence on the back foot. A nice little break from the base of a ruck from Shane Honeyford led to a penalty to Bann who opted to kick to the corner. An excellent lineout routine created a dangerous maul which was trundling towards the Dungannon line at pace, forcing the defence to haul it down for another Bann penalty. Thompson reacted quickly, feeding Paul Ross with the pass from which the No 8 drove over despite the close attention of four defenders, with the out-half adding the conversion for a 7-10 interval scoreline.
With a short half-time break Banbridge expected to now be able to play with the wind at their backs and play rugby deep in the Dungannon half. But the conditions seemed to change almost instantly as the half began with the wind dying to a gentle breeze and the torrents of rain changing to a light drizzle. However Bann now had their tails up, going after every loose ball, and the introduction of fresh legs in the form of Richard McElroy and Mark Magowan up front caused no amount of problems for the Dungannon pack as they fought for possession at every breakdown.
Thompson marshalled each and every attack on the Dungannon defence with James McCrum and McElroy causing damage with every carry. As play moved towards the Dungannon line the visitors’ stubborn defence kept stopping each attack until Calum Boland picked up a loose ball and floated a beautiful pass over the heads of the defence to find Taylor who rounded the last man to touch down for a 12-10 lead.
Bann fell asleep at the kick-off and a careless mistake led to Dungannon receiving a penalty and as they worked their way towards the Banbridge line only some heroic defending from Chris Berry and Ryan Ringland kept wave after wave of attacks from crossing the Bann line. It was following this defensive effort that hooker Ringland had to leave the field after an impressive shift, leaving the Bann with what looked like a makeshift front row in McElroy, McCreery and McCrum. But it was this front row that probably turned the flow of the game as they forced a turnover against the head to give Bann possession from which Thompson duly cleared.
As Bann again continued to make their way downfield with a dominant scrum and lineout securing possession they found themselves camped on the Dungannon line. With a barrelling run McElroy barged his way close to the line, using some of his years of experience to cleverly ground the ball against the base of the post for a well-deserved try.
The drier conditions in the second half seemed to suit the home side better as they continued to move the ball around the pitch with Taylor, Keir Patterson and Berry finding more and more holes in the Dungannon defence. Worryingly for Banbridge, they lost the services of two other talismen in McIntosh and McNally, who were both forced to retire from the game with injuries which forced outside back Boland into the back row. But it was Boland in fact who put the icing on the performance with a strong pick-up from the base of the ruck to force his way over the line duly helped by Thompson to leave the final score 26-10.
“That was a decent Dungannon outfit,” commented Craig. “And I thought the lads did very well to come back from ten points down to score four tries and prevent Dungannon from adding to their tally.
“A lot of the players put their hand up for the Man-of-the-Match accolade with Paul Ross leading the way up front in both attack and defence, and Richard McElroy also unlucky to claim the award with his performance off the bench combining destructive work at the break down, strong carrying and a solid set piece input. But this week it has to go to Robin Thompson for his work in poor conditions, marshalling both the defence and attack and keeping Dungannon pinned deep in their own half for large passages of the game.”