Although they remain in the lower reaches of the Division 2A table, Dungannon, Seapoint and City of Derry are all heading in the right direction following important wins on Saturday.
Dungannon have arrested their slide with two victories on the bounce, the latest one seeing them squeeze past UCC 17-16 in a real cliffhanger at the Mardyke.
The Tyrone side breathed a big sigh of relief as the home side, who scored a try in each through Ben Mitchell and James Kiernan, missed a late conversion.
The victors have James McMahon to thank once again, the Ulster Ravens-capped back rower bagging two tries to add to the hat-trick he scored against Seapoint just last week.
Seapoint themselves got back to winning ways thanks to a late drop goal at Kilbogget Park. They edged out Thomond 9-7 to climb into 13th place, level on nine points with Dungannon and UCC just above them.
City of Derry ended their four-match losing streak in this season’s league with a 26-23 Ulster derby triumph at home to Banbridge.
The introduction of Richard McCarter at out-half proved a masterstroke by Derry head coach Mark Nicholl as McCarter combined with Andrew Semple, who moved to scrum half, to inspire a courageous fight-back from 17-6 down.
A late Semple penalty was enough to get the hosts over the finish line as the Judge’s Road crowd erupted in celebration, with the result seeing the clubs swap positions at the foot of the table.
With full-back Adam Doherty and centre Johnny Little in impressive form, Bann made the better start with Little being held up before Collie Bickerstaff crashed over for a 7-3 lead.
Semple’s second successful penalty cut the gap to a single point in the 25th minute, before Aaron Kennedy responded with a three-pointer and the lively Little scored a deserved try approaching half-time.
Kennedy’s conversion put 11 points between the sides at the break, but Dan Soper’s side lost their grip on the game as the newly-introduced McCarter and Semple became increasingly influential for Derry.
McCarter’s skip pass released William McCleery for an unconverted try in the corner, but the winless home side looked jittery in possession at times and they allowed Kennedy to respond off the kicking tee for 20-11.
McCarter stepped up to the plate with a well-taken solo try as he dummied his way through the Bann defence, making it 20-16, before Kennedy left the door ajar by missing his most kickable penalty of the day.
Derry raided downfield and won a penalty for not releasing. McCarter’s kick to the corner set up a lineout and a powerful drive led to Richard Baird being driven over the whitewash. Semple’s conversion had Nicholl’s charges leading 23-20.
Tension gripped the ground as Derry lost Chris Shields to the sin-bin for not rolling away and Kennedy slotted the resulting penalty to bring Bann level entering the final quarter of an hour.
Derry defended with great determination to thwart their territorially-dominant opponents and suddenly, the hosts had a numerical advantage when Little was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on. Semple held his nerve to land the decisive kick and some further gritty defence kept Bann out in the dying minutes.
Owen Cullen, younger brother of former Leinster and Ireland lock Leo, was among the try scorers as Blackrock College battled past Naas 19-14 at soggy Stradbrook.
‘Rock are up to fourth in the standings following their third home win of the campaign, with centres Sean Coughlan and Emile van Wyk both touching down on Saturday afternoon.
Naas were held up close to the Blackrock line in the final play of the game, but will have been pleased to take home a losing bonus point in very tough conditions. Hooker John Sutton scored their only try in the 27th minute.
Meanwhile, the much-anticipated Tipperary derby at Spafield finished in a 19-12 victory for hosts Cashel over Nenagh Ormond with the large crowd held spellbound throughout.
Cashel celebrated their third win in the last four rounds, setting the tone with a powerful start from the pack and some pinpoint place-kicking from winger Darragh O’Brien, who finished with a 14-point tally.
Amid an intense opening, O’Brien split the posts in the 5th and 12th minutes and Cashel moved 13-0 clear after Cedric Unholz’s 25th-minute try which was teed up by his centre partner Brian Silke’s overhead pass out of a tackle.
O’Brien converted and tagged on a superbly-struck penalty from just inside the Nenagh half, before visiting full-back Dan Fogarty responded for a 16-3 scoreline at the break.
The heavier Nenagh forwards began to make headway in the third quarter, carrying strongly into the Cashel 22 and laying the groundwork for two Fogarty penalties.
Fogarty and O’Brien swapped further penalties before Nenagh enjoyed a prolonged spell of dominance, looking to wear Cashel down as they forced them to make tackle after tackle.
Nenagh threw everything they could at their Tipp rivals late on in pursuit of a levelling converted try – they did come close on a couple of occasions, with Pat O’Connor having to defend a dangerous kick through from Mike Fogarty – but credit goes to the home defence for seeing out the result.
The Friday Night Lights meeting of Skerries and Bective Rangers resulted in another big win for Chris Keane’s men, who have now scored 101 points in their last three outings.
Bective were beaten 33-6 at Holmpatrick with Skerries running in four tries to move up to fifth in the table. Winger Derek Keane’s successful return for the Goats continued with a brace of tries – he has now scored four in two games – and openside David Howard and centre Kevin McGrath also crossed the visitors’ whitewash.
NUIM Barnhall enjoyed their second November success to keep the pressure on leaders Old Wesley. The Blue Bulls picked up their third try-scoring bonus point of the campaign with a 30-20 defeat of Rainey Old Boys at Parsonstown.
Sean Lacey and Michael Mellett both dotted down in the first half, with Simon Gillespie kicking two penalties and a conversion for an 18-3 interval lead.
Centre Fionn Higgins added the third try with a smart break and finish and although Rainey responded with two unconverted scores, David Stewart made certain of the home win and bonus point by going over in the 70th minute.
At Donnybrook, first-placed Old Wesley did most of the damage in the first half to see off the challenge of a talented Queen’s University team – 31-21.
However, Wesley missed out on a bonus point which means that although they boast a perfect five-from-five record, the Dubliners are now just two points ahead of chief chasers Barnhall at the summit.
The very wet conditions hampered Wesley’s hopes of scoring four tries or more. In the end, they managed three – all scored in a first half which ended 25-0 in their favour.
Queen’s struggled to cope with Wesley’s lineout mauling and strong carrying by the forwards, with Richie Morrow, Stephen Harvey and Darren Horan all touching down.
Two further penalties from the boot of winger Barry McLaughlin moved the table toppers into a 31-7 lead, as he completed his 14-point haul from kicks.
But the Belfast students did improve over the closing 40 minutes and collected three tries, including an intercept effort in injury-time. Conor Shiels, Josh Atkinson and replacement Scott Finlay were the scores and Justin Rea converted all three.
– With thanks to photographers Colbert O’Sullivan and Denis Vahey
ROUND 5 RESULTS:
Seapoint 9 Thomond 7, Kilbogget Park
Blackrock College 19 Naas 14, Stradbrook
Cashel 19 Nenagh Ormond 12, Spafield
City of Derry 26 Banbridge 23, Judge’s Road
NUIM Barnhall 30 Rainey Old Boys 20, Parsonstown
Old Wesley 31 Queen’s University 21, Donnybrook
UCC 16 Dungannon 17, the Mardyke
Skerries 33 Bective Rangers 6, Holmpatrick (played on Friday)