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Ulster Bank League: Division 1B/2A Review

Ulster Bank League: Division 1B/2A Review

Ballynahinch ended their four-match losing streak in Division 1B thanks to David McGuigan’s dramatic late try at Naas, while the rescheduled games in Division 2A saw positional changes at both ends of the table.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: Saturday, April 1

DIVISION 1B:

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NAAS 14 BALLYNAHINCH 16, Forenaughts
Scorers: Naas: Tries: Peter Howard, Paul Monahan; Cons: Peter Osborne 2
Ballynahinch: Try: David McGuigan; Con: Peter Nelson; Pens: Peter Nelson 2, Justin Rea

HT: Naas 14 Ballynahinch 6

A stunning 80th-minute breakaway try from David McGuigan saw Ballynahinch pip Naas at Forenaughts with the result almost certainly securing ‘Hinch’s Division 1B status for next season. They are now sixth in the table, nine points clear of second-from-bottom Galwegians.

A large crowd turned up for this vital rescheduled tie, and they saw Naas get off to a blistering start. Following a powerful carry by Paulie Tolofua, out-half Ben Swindlehurst was stopped just short of the line. The ball was quickly recycled and passed out to left winger Peter Howard who scored in the corner. The conversion was right out on the touchline but it made little difference to in-form full-back Peter Osborne who slotted it over for a 7-0 lead.

Restarts have been a problem for Naas all season and it was a similar story here. Their failure to deal with this one led to the concession of a penalty which centre Justin Rea scored to get Ballynahinch off the mark. A 25th minute penalty from Ulster’s Peter Nelson reduced the margin to a single point.

However, Naas looked the better side and their superiority was rewarded just before half-time. After winning a penalty, they declined a shot at goal and instead opted to kick towards the corner. After winning the lineout, the Kildare men formed a driving maul which ended with lock Paul Monahan crashing over. With Osborne adding the extras, Naas led 14-6 at the interval.

A Nelson penalty just 90 seconds into the second half made it 14-9 and from then on, we saw why Naas have the meanest defence in the second tier. Ballynahinch needed a victory to take themselves away from the relegation zone, and for the next 35 minutes they threw everything at Naas in their bid for victory.

Johne Murphy’s men stood firm and with Nelson missing two long range penalties, it looked as if they had survived a big scare when eventually getting out of the own half with just a couple of minutes remaining.

Ironically, the match-winning score for Ballynahinch came from a Naas attack. Some good handling by the backs took play up to the visitors’ try-line, but a knock-on turned over possession and ‘Hinch quickly countered. Naas were caught for numbers out wide and before they knew it, Ireland Sevens international McGuigan was away and gone. To the utter disbelief of the home crowd, he had just enough to make the line and bring his side level.

The successful conversion from Nelson gave the Co. Down outfit a 16-14 lead with just seconds remaining. Naas did get one last chance to snatch the result when they were awarded a penalty for hands in a ruck. However, from almost halfway, Osborne was narrowly wide with his effort and the final whistle followed.

NAAS: Peter Osborne; Fionn Carr, Johne Murphy, Henry Bryce, Peter Howard; Ben Swindlehurst, Max Whittingham; Adam Coyle, Graham Reynolds, Jason Harney, Paul Monahan, David Benn, Eoin Walsh, Will O’Brien (capt), Paulie Tolofua.

Replacements: Warren Larkin, Conor Doyle, Andrew Kearney, Michael Skelton, Rob O’Connor.

BALLYNAHINCH: Paddy Wright; David Busby, Davy Nicholson, Justin Rea, Aaron Ferris; Peter Nelson, Aaron Cairns; Jonny Blair, Andrew Harper, Craig Trenier, James Simpson, John Donnan, Stewart Evans, David McGuigan, Michael Graham (capt).

Replacements: Andrew Weir, Ben Pentland, Brian Howard, James McBriar, Callum McLaughlin.

DIVISION 2A:

Sunday’s Well 6 Highfield 20, Irish Independent Park (played on Friday)
Nenagh Ormond 22 Malone 29, New Ormond Park
Corinthians 32 Queen’s University 24, Corinthian Park

With two rounds remaining, Highfield have closed the gap on leaders Banbridge to just two points following their well-judged 20-6 Cork derby win over Sunday’s Well at Irish Independent Park.

The ‘Well had the wind at their backs in the first half but were left trailing 13-6 at half-time. They had no end-product to show for some promising attacks, including one where Eoin Geary was denied a try by a superb tackle from Highfield’s Luke Kingston which forced a knock-on.

Two Shane O’Riordan penalties had the hosts on the board, but a couple of well-worked tries from Fintan O’Sullivan, who struck from a close-in lineout, and Kevin Foyle, coupled with a lone Paddy O’Toole penalty, gave Tim Ryan’s charges a seven-point advantage. Foyle touched just before the break, following up on a blindside break by Kingston.

Highfield were 14-point winners in the end, Dave O’Hea adding try number three via a purposeful lineout maul which came after 15 minutes of sustained pressure on the home defence. Captain O’Toole added the extras, with the ‘Well slipping down to ninth overall.

Corinthians have moved out of the bottom two thanks to an impressive 32-24 bonus point victory over mid-table Queen’s. It was their second success on home turf in the space of a week, and leaves them two points ahead of the ‘Well who now occupy the relegation play-off spot. The students’ tries were scored by Nick Timoney, Ali Wright and Conor Kelly?.

Meanwhile, Nenagh Ormond lost for the first time at home this season as Malone bagged the spoils in a 29-22 bonus point triumph. Jack Owens and Callum Smith, who have both played for Ulster ‘A’ this season, scored a try apiece and centre Michael Cartmill bagged a brace.

Three of those tries came in a fantastic first half performance as wind-backed Malone built a 24-12 interval lead. Mark O’Connor kicked a penalty and converted full-back Owens’ score (pictured below) before Cartmill’s two tries in a devastating five-minute spell – both converted by O’Connor – put 24 points between the sides.

 

Closing in on half-time, below-par Nenagh, who wore green and navy jerseys to avoid a colour clash, showed signs of recovery with Willie Coffey and Willie O’Connor both running in tries, one of which was converted by Clayton Stewart. They were also on the front foot for much of the third quarter, but only had a Stewart penalty to show for their efforts.

With 15 minutes remaining at New Ormond Park, Malone struck the decisive blow. Owens spotted some space deep in the Nenagh half, launching a well-placed kick downfield and Smith managed to outpace the cover, latch onto the ball and score in the corner. O’Connor’s conversion attempt was thwarted by the post.

Nenagh closed out the scoring to earn a losing bonus point, back rower Kieran O’Gorman crossing the whitewash for New Zealander Stewart to add the extras. The result is a significant setback to Nenagh’s challenge for automatic promotion – they have fallen to third in the table, lying four points behind table-topping Bann.

After completing a season’s double over the Tipperary men, Paddy Armstrong’s Malone now have a 10-point advantage over fifth-placed Queen’s and are hitting form just as the promotion play-offs approach. This Saturday’s trip to Highfield is another big test of their ambitions.