It remains incredibly tight at the top of Ulster Bank League Division 2A with Malone’s derby defeat by Queen’s University allowing fellow Ulster side Banbridge to hit the summit following their bonus point win over Cashel.
In cold and wet conditions at Gibson Park, Queen’s University toppled league leaders Malone with a last-minute breakaway try from Ulster Academy winger Johnny McPhillips confirming their 18-7 win.
The students had led 6-0 early on, with assured out-half Jack Milligan slotting two penalties, yet Malone gradually turned the screw with lock Cory Tipping providing a solid platform from the lineout. The hosts also exerted pressure in the scrum and three successive penalties led to Queen’s loosehead Jonny Craig being sin-binned.
A try followed from Malone’s ever-alert scrum half Shane Kelly, converted by full-back Mark O’Connor, but the momentum swung back in the visitors’ favour as Malone lost lock Richard Millar to the bin and both Rory Campbell and O’Connor to injury. In fact, winger Campbell had to return to the pitch to replace O’Connor.
Queen’s used their numerical advantage to run in try number two, as quick hands put lively left winger Connor Kelly over in the corner. Milligan then fired over a cracking conversion to end the first half’s scoring at 13-7.
Campell aggravated his injury on the stroke of half-time, meaning Malone had to reshuffle their back-line again with back rower and captain Neil Alcorn moving to the centre alongside Nathan Brown and Adam Liddell switching to full-back.
The home side lost good field position through a series of handling errors and while Queen’s continued to threaten on the counter, the second period was a largely stop-start affair fought out between the two packs in heavy under-foot conditions.
Brown missed a 55th minute penalty following a dominant Malone scrum, but hard-tackling Queen’s managed to contain the Cregagh Red Sox in their own half as the half wore on. Ulster Academy number 8 Nick Timoney increased his influence in open play and at the breakdown, while Milligan used a couple of penalties to pin Malone back.
The clinching score arrived a full eight minutes into injury-time when McPhillips (pictured below) sprinted clean through from halfway for an unconverted try, sealing a third away victory of the campaign for Queen’s.
Queen’s face Ulster rivals Banbridge in back-to-back fixtures before Christmas, with Bann now two points clear at the top of the table after beating Cashel 28-5 at rain-hit Rifle Park.
Daniel Soper’s charges established early scrum dominance and a 12th minute penalty from Adam Doherty opened their account. Four minutes later, they grabbed the first of their four tries when John Porter beat his opposite number on the outside.
The rain became heavier as half-time approached and Bann ran in their second unconverted effort, out-half Robin Thompson catching out a sluggish Cashel defence from a quickly-taken penalty. But Cashel prop Danny Lambe hit back with a try from a lineout maul to close the gap to 13-5.
The Co. Tipperary outfit were on the back foot for much of the closing 40 minutes, though, and Doherty increased Bann’s lead again with a 55th minute penalty. Their third try was proving elusive as first a knock-on denied them and then Peter Cromie was held up over the line, but their reliable scrum allowed lock Chris Allen to cross for a hard-earned five-pointer.
With the result sewn up in difficult weather conditions, Banbridge’s persistence was rewarded late on when flanker Dale Carson got over for what could prove to be an important bonus point score. Doherty converted from close range for a 23-point winning margin.
Delighted with the five-point return, Banbridge head coach Soper told the club website: “When you consider the horrendous conditions in which the game was played I think the players take great credit for picking up a bonus point today.
“I told them that they had been rewarded for the effort they had put into training in the last two weeks when there were no games. Cashel had been sitting just below us in the table but we were dominant in nearly every facet of play today. But the extreme weather made handling difficult and Cashel worked hard defensively so I was delighted to pick up that fourth try near the end.”
Elsewhere, Naas enjoyed a 29-10 win away to Thomond as they moved into second place – just ahead of former leaders Malone. At blustery Liam Fitzgerald Park, Johne Murphy’s men ran in five tries through David Benn (2), Rob O’Connor, Paul Tolofua and Will O’Brien.
Second row Benn notched his opening try in the seventh minute, linking with O’Connor to get over in the right corner following some good initial work from Murphy, Andrew Kearney and David Barron. Thomond offloaded well in their attempts to respond, but they had lock Darragh Payne sin-binned for not rolling away and Fionn McGibney was wide with a difficult 26th minute penalty attempt.
Seven minutes later, Benn completed his brace for the Kildare men. O’Connor did the damage with a break from his own 10-metre line and with Henry Bryce, Adam Coyle and Paul Monahan also involved in a free-flowing attack, the space was created for Benn to power over in the left corner.
Murphy’s side then added a converted try to lead 17-0 at the turnaround. Thomond were cut open by an excellent 40-metre midfield run from Peter Osborne, Bryce gained further ground and set up winger O’Connor to score by the posts with out-half Osborne converting.
Even better followed for the visitors just nine minutes into the second period. Powerful number 8 Tolofua used his strength and speed to score a tremendous bonus point effort, having picked up possession from a ruck some 35 metres out. Osborne’s conversion made it 24-0.
Thomond leaked another try to Naas flanker O’Brien off a five-metre lineout, but the Limerick outfit finished off two superb consolation tries in the final quarter from counter attacks wide on the right. Replacement back rower David O’Halloran and winger Eugene O’Carroll were the scorers in the 62nd and 77th minutes.
Meanwhile, UCC and Nenagh Ormond also claimed impressive bonus point wins, rising to fourth and eighth respectively in the league standings. Corinthians fell to the bottom rung following UCC’s 31-7 success at Corinthian Park on Saturday.
The Cork students led 15-7 at half-time despite playing into a very strong wind. Tries from Chris McAuliffe and Rob O’Donovan – his first league score – had them in good stead, and they added two more in the second half through Ben Burns and Paul Kiernan, who captained the Ireland Under-19s last season. Full-back Kevin O’Keeffe kicked three penalties and a conversion.
In a high-scoring contest, Nenagh Ormond moved off the foot of the table courtesy of a 38-24 bonus point victory over Skerries at New Ormond Park. It put an end to the Tipp team’s four-match losing streak.
Strong-running out-half Kolio Hifo delighted the Nenagh faithful with a hat-trick of tries and Kevin Seymour, Derek Corcoran and Michael Walsh also touched down. The hosts led 14-3 at half-time and were out of reach at 38-10 before Skerries finished with a flourish, centre Kevin McGrath notching his second try of the game and scrum half Eoghan Carron stretched over from a ruck. Replacement Paul O’Loghlen contributed three conversions and a penalty.
ROUND 8 RESULTS –
Thomond 10 Naas 29, Liam Fitzgerald Park
Banbridge 28 Cashel 5, Rifle Park
Corinthians 7 UCC 31, Corinthian Park
Malone 7 Queen’s University 18, Gibson Park
Nenagh Ormond 38 Skerries 14, New Ormond Park