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Ulster Bank League: Division 2A Review

Ulster Bank League: Division 2A Review

Only a point separates the top three clubs in Ulster Bank League Division 2A following a Halloween weekend full of on-field fireworks.

Cashel’s five-match winning run was ended by a hungry Malone side at Spafield, the Cregagh Red Sox gaining a 29-18 victory that was hugely impressive given that they were without injured frontliners Chris Griffiths, Dave Cave, Philip Eadie, Lee Barlow and Ben Halliday.

This was an extremely physical contest and Malone’s positive opening was crucial in spreading belief throughout their team. There were concerns over a front row that contained makeshift tighthead prop Gary Crawford, but the visiting scrum consistently delivered the goods.

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Cashel opened the scoring against the run of play, full-back Tom McHale slotting a 20th minute penalty, but the Ulstermen hit back with two converted tries to lead 14-6 at the turnaround.

Their inspirational captain Neil Alcorn was illegally stopped from scoring in the corner, leading to Cashel winger Eamonn Connolly being sin-binned. Malone used their numerical advantage to go through the phases and Alcorn deservedly touched down this time, with full-back Mark O’Connor converting with aplomb from the right touchline.

The 14-man hosts leaked a second converted try soon after, Malone using quick ball from a five-metre scrum to string a necklace of passes together and put winger Jack McMurtry over in the left hand corner. O’Connor added another fine conversion from wide out.

McHale fired over a penalty in response and the eight-point gap remained in place for half-time, as O’Connor missed the target after Malone number 8 Ross Todd was pulled down in a lineout.

Despite losing the influential Todd to injury, Jarrett Truscott’s charges kept on course with some pinpoint tactical kicking from O’Connor. They used lineout ball to probe through their midfield axis, the excellent Nathan Brown linking with his centre partner Adam Liddell who stood up his opposite number and left two defenders trailing his wake as he ran in a superb solo try from 20 metres out.

O’Connor’s conversion had Malone coasting at 21-6, but two poor clearance kicks from Josh Pentland and O’Connor led to quick-fire tries for Cashel’s Cormac O’Donnell (57 minutes) and Brian Silke (65). McHale converted the first of them, and Silke was first to reach O’Connor’s blocked kick when it bounced past the try-line.

With their lead cut to 21-18, Malone showed their resilience as they stormed back into scoring range, winning a ruck penalty which was sent towards the corner and the resulting lineout maul saw key replacement Darryl Maxwell crash over for the bonus point score.

Some defiant defending, typified by the outstanding James McAlister, saw Malone frustrate Cashel in their attempts to respond on the scoreboard. A further penalty from O’Connor made it 29-18 and the Tipperary outfit were hugely frustrated to miss out on a losing bonus point, despite pressure from a five-metre scrum and a subsequent close-in penalty.

Banbridge relied on some tremendous defending of their own to see out an 11-0 success against Naas at Rifle Park, making it four win out of six for Daniel Soper’s side.

New Zealander Soper, who was delighted that the All Blacks retained their World Cup crown that evening, said: “Two wins makes for a good day! That’s the first time I can remember Bann not conceding any points, which is a fantastic effort against a team who had been averaging 25 points a game.

“We put together some good attacks but lacked the finishing touch. We face a big challenge (against UCC) in Cork next Saturday but we need to start picking up wins away from home to hit our targets.”

Naas leaked the only try of the game in the third minute, losing control of possession just inside their own half. Banbridge’s Jonny Little got a boot to it and aided and abetted by his centre partner Clark McAllister, the ball was hacked over the try-line with the latter getting the touchdown.

Despite the best efforts of the big Naas pack and strong-running centre Henry Bryce, the Kildare men remained scoreless with Shandon Scott’s 38th-minute penalty making it 8-0 for half-time.

Bann had to withstand a late siege having had scrum half Lee Steenson yellow-carded due to a series of ruck infringements, and they also scrambled back to prevent the ever-threatening Bryce from opening his side’s scoring account in the third quarter.

After a couple of missed opportunities including a 70th minute penalty effort from Scott that fell short, a Stephen Irvine-inspired counter attack led to a penalty which out-half Scott stuck over for the final points of a low-scoring but frenetic encounter.

Meanwhile, Corinthians celebrated their third win on the trot by overcoming Skerries 27-9 at home. A penalty try was the difference between the teams at the break, as the Galway men recovered from the early setback of losing second row Dave Hansberry to a serious foot injury.

Connacht flanker James Connolly came to Corinthians’ rescue during Darren Griffin’s sin-bin period. He put in a crunching tackle to prevent a Skerries try in the corner, albeit that James Faiva soon landed his third successful penalty for the Dubliners.

Former Ireland Under-20 international David Panter then delighted the home crowd, picking off an intercept on his 22 and sidestepping a couple of would-be tacklers to run in a cracking converted try.

The Corinthians forwards came to the fore to make certain of the result. They gained the upper hand in a scrum, allowing out-half James Proctor to find a brilliant touch near the corner. The resulting maul was driven over for blindside Sean Connolly to claim the game’s final try which full-back Simon Keller added the extras to.

Eight tries and 68 points were shared out by Queen’s University and UCC in a pulsating student derby that was played in sunny conditions at Dub Lane.

Queen’s captain Josh Atkinson rescued three league points for his side, touching down late on with out-half Jack Milligan converting for a 34-34 final scoreline. The Belfast students will be kicking themselves, though, as they were in a winning position at 27-13.

The first half was a free-flowing affair and full of incident. Tries from winger Damon Hall (19 minutes) and number 8 Nick Timoney (25), allied to some accurate place-kicking from Milligan, had Queen’s 15 points to the good.

However, Atkinson saw yellow for deliberately killing the ball in the 37th minute and UCC were clinical in scoring a timely second unconverted try. Centre Kevin Slater made it over in the corner to add to an earlier five-pointer from out-half Tim Clifford.

Clifford reduced the arrears further with a 42nd minute penalty, making it 20-13, but the electric Hall ran another excellent line off Milligan to complete his brace, with the latter converting.

Yet, UCC managed to hit top gear in timely fashion with a run of three converted tries. Back rowers Conor Barry and Edward Earle scored the first two, as the Cork club’s pack increased their influence at set piece time and in the loose.

Just when it looked like they had missed out on points with Clifford hitting the post from a penalty attempt, UCC managed to regain possession and go through the phases for second row Guillaume Baude to crash over.

Clifford’s conversion left Queen’s seven points behind, only for the home side to hit back with some neat interplay and handling that paved the way for skipper Atkinson to score and Milligan’s boot ensured a share of the spoils.

After defeats in Galway and Belfast, Thomond lifted their spirits with a well-judged 33-20 bonus point triumph over Nenagh Ormond at Liam Fitzgerald Park.

The Limerick club ran in four tries – three in the second half – through Jamie McGarry, Fiach O’Loughlin, Niall Sheehan and Eoin O’Carroll, while Fionn McGibney kicked the rest of the points from three conversions and two penalties.

Nenagh, who had tries from Anthony Kavanagh, Will O’Connor and Derek Corcoran, lost four of their five league games in the month of October. They will be desperate to bounce back with a positive result away to Malone next Saturday.

ROUND 6 RESULTS –

Cashel 18 Malone 29, Spafield
Banbridge 11 Naas 0, Rifle Park
Corinthians 27 Skerries 9, Corinthian Park
Queen’s University 34 UCC 34, Dub Lane
Thomond 33 Nenagh Ormond 20, Liam Fitzgerald Park