BANN FOURTHS 50 PORTADOWN THIRDS 0
While most of the rugby players in Ulster were looking out their windows thinking what might have been, Banbridge 4th XV hosted the only Forster Plate quarter-final to proceed on Saturday. This was testament in no small measure to the sterling work of the grounds team.
Following on from the previous week’s fantastic result against the league leaders, only six players remained in the squad from that match, but for the first time this season there were no debutants in the team.
Despite all the changes Bann produced a wonderful display of rugby in difficult conditions, with Team Manager Andy Fulton putting it down to the strength and depth within the squad and the players’ mature approach to rotation. “Some of the lads can’t play every week because of work commitments,” he said. “But with a big squad we can work round that. We have a lot of players coming into form at the right time and that combined with excellent team discipline, which we saw today especially in the first half, we can go into the final stages of this competition and the league with confidence.”
Playing towards Newry in the first half, the home team settled quicker, regaining possession from the kick-off and going straight onto the attack with a mixture of strong running and quick clean ball at the breakdown. The skill level and handling defied the conditions with several pop passes out of the tackles and stepping out of tackles. From this neat interplay Alan Thompson popped a ball to Jordan Mount who caught it off his shoelaces and went over for the first try, converted by Jeff Dodds.
This gave the home team much encouragement and they didn’t let the Ports settle with any possession, with some excellent tackling notably from Peter Sleith, whose work rate and hunger didn’t just stop players but drove them back irrespective of their size. The pressure forced the visitors into mistakes and from a resulting scrum Captain Sam Boyd picked up and linked with Dodds before getting the ball back via Jamie Ewing and crossing for the second try.
Bann continued to pressure from the re-start, forcing the away team to boot the ball downfield. This was fielded by Jordan Mullan and after some neat inter-play involving the back three of Stephen Cowan, Mullan and Ewing, the latter broke through for the team’s third try which Dodds just failed to convert.
The team were really starting to grow in confidence. The front row of Kris Campbell, Dave Neill and Jordan Poots were not only solid in the set piece but their work rate around the park was immense and for every ball carry there was someone there in support to secure the ball at the breakdown. From these breakdowns the speed and quality of ball was superb and Dodds was getting lots of options at scrum-half, either to crash the ball up tight or take it out wider.
Ross Semple was lurking in a wider position and when he was put in possession he burst through several would-be tacklers and rumbled several metres to score the team’s fourth try, converted by Dodds.
Next up was a real forwards’ try with Stuart Marshall giving power from the engine room to clear out several rucks in a row and support his fellow forwards with neat pick and drives around the side. The forwards worked their way into the opposition “22” and Neill went over from a metre out. Unfortunately an accidental knee-on-knee hit forced Ewing off the pitch but he was ably replaced by Ryan Armstrong who showed he was keen to prove his worth.
The sixth try came from Skipper Boyd, who took crash ball off a ruck to power his way through a faltering defence. The No 8’s tenth touchdown of the season was converted by Dodds for a 38-0 interval lead.
Bann made some changes at half-time, including the introduction of replacement props Barney McKevitt and Andy Wilson, but with nothing to lose Portadown came out the stronger and for the first few minutes forced play deep into the home team’s “22”. With patience and composure Bann regained possession and went on the attack. Alex Shannon, who was having a strong game in the lineouts and about the park, was next to get on the score sheet, showing speed and strength to evade -be tacklers and score the teams seventh converted try. Not to be out-done, Ross Davis showed his former club-mates a clean pair of heels as he scorched in for what proved the final score of the game, with the referee acceding to the visitors’ request to bring early closure to proceedings.
“I was disappointed that some of our subs didn’t get as long a run out as normal,” added Fulton. “But the decision to finish early was sensible.
“The likes of Jordan Poots and Peter Sleith have been great additions to the club and have a bright future with a bit of guidance. Sam Boyd is proving to be an excellent captain, leading from the front. For me today the player of the match was Jeff Dodds. His talking and encouragement to the young players was invaluable. He marshalled the defence ensuring no one strayed off-side. Most importantly he made sure the ball was put in the right place for scores to be taken.”
Next week the team are down to travel to Randalstown but with the weather affecting so many fixtures there could be a backlog.