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Ulster Bank League: Division 2A Review

Ulster Bank League: Division 2A Review

Queen’s University are the early leaders in Ulster Bank League Division 2A after claiming the only bonus point win of the weekend with a 30-18 defeat of Corinthians.

Ene Fa’atau, one of the key figures in Dundalk’s ascent into the senior ranks at the end of last season, is now coaching Corinthians but the Galway club were unable to give the New Zealander a first day victory.

Queen’s travelled south to Corinthian Park in determined mood as they broke into a 20-3 half-time lead. That laid the foundations and the bonus point was duly secured with Jonny Milliken, Damon Hall, Jordan Southway and Paddy Farrell all crossing the whitewash.

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Corinthians, who dropped down from Division 1B last term, face a tough second round trip to Banbridge who impressed in holding off Ulster rivals Malone (23-20) at Gibson Park.

A late converted try from Michael Barker earned Malone a losing bonus point, but Bann looked a far hungrier outfit and they were good value for the result despite only leading 10-8 at the break.

Two unconverted tries in the space of five minutes from Andrew Morrison, who followed up on a pacy Adam Doherty break, and Shandon Scott put Banbridge in front, before a Mark O’Connor penalty and Adam Liddell try got Malone back in touch.

The Belfast side, who are now coached by Australian Jarrett Truscott, did well to recover from a sticky situation as their number 8 Ross Todd was sin-binned for a challenge on Morrison as he scored.

Although they allowed Scott through soon after, Malone’s forwards exerted some pressure late in the first half. O’Connor’s place-kick was followed by a yellow card for Bann number 8 Stephen Irvine for repeated ruck infringements, and Malone replacement winger Liddell got free to make it a two-point game.

The tempo increased in the third quarter with Lee Steenson’s penalty cancelled out by a levelling five-pointer from O’Connor who finished off a fine breakout. Nonetheless, a timely purple patch saw Banbridge wrestle back control with scrum half Steenson converting a Jason Gribben try that owed much to the strong running of back rower Irvine.

There was more drama, though, as Irvine’s eventful day was ended by a second yellow card. Malone should have pushed on and used their numerical advantage with a full 20 minutes left, however their discipline was poor and with prop Lee Barlow sin-binned, Steenson kicked Bann into a 23-13 lead. The visitors deservedly held despite Malone centre Barker dotting down in the final minutes.

Meanwhile, Tipperary club Cashel came away from Liam Fitzgerald Park with a hard-fought 16-15 success as they got the better of a tenacious Thomond side.

Referee Helen O’Reilly drew plaudits from both camps for her handling of a very tough and physical encounter. An evenly balanced first half ended 6-3 in Cashel’s favour, with Jason Newton knocking over two penalties to one from John Lillis.

Thomond should have been in front at that stage as Cashel needed two try-saving tackles from James Maxwell and Ed Leamy to keep them out. But the hosts finally got over the whitewash in the 45th minute while the Tipp men were down to 14. Jamie McGarry scored out wide to make it 8-6.

Back came Cashel with the introduction of experienced campaigner Brendan O’Connor, the former Cork Constitution and Connacht flanker, giving them a big ball carrier to row in behind. With 52 minutes on the clock, a double tackle from Michael Crosse and Brian Silke gave the visitors turnover ball and a series of accurate passes set up Eamon Connolly for a converted try.

Newton tagged on a penalty on the hour mark, nudging Cashel closer to four valuable league points. They were made to fight all the way, though, with powerful prop Sasha Slijepcevic notching a seven-pointer for Thomond in injury-time.

The all-Leinster affair at Holmpatrick on Friday night was won by visitors Naas on a 16-0 scoreline. In awful weather conditions, the Kildare men made the most of a big wind advantage in the first half with David Aherne and Peter Osborne kicking astutely to pin Skerries back.

Full-back Osborne fired over an initial penalty before scorching through for a 10th minute try, profiting from a Skerries scrum that was turned over on their 22-metre line. A neat link-up with scrum half Rob Campbell put Osborne darting through midfield and in under the posts for a score he converted himself.

Skerries tried hard to respond in the heavy rain, with back rowers Ross McAuley and Thomas O’Hare leading the charge, but the Naas defence frustrated the hosts and was hugely important in the visitors ultimately seeing out the result.

Two well-struck penalties followed from Osborne for a 16-0 advantage, the second after a break from ex-Leicester Tigers and Munster back Johne Murphy (pictured above) who is now part of the Naas coaching set-up.

Murphy’s guiding hand from outside centre helped Naas to dig deep as they made tackle after tackle during the closing 40 minutes. Skerries had enough territory and pressure to cause some damage, however their forwards were stopped just short from two excellent maul drives.

ROUND 1 RESULTS:

Corinthians 18 Queen’s University 30, Corinthian Park
Malone 20 Banbridge 23, Gibson Park
Thomond 15 Cashel 16, Liam Fitzgerald Park
Skerries 0 Naas 16, Holmpatrick (played on Friday)