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Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Review

Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Review

With a perfect four-from-four record, Old Crescent have climbed to the top of Ulster Bank League Division 2B after ending Wanderers’ unbeaten start to the season. Meanwhile, Sunday’s Well opened their win account to move out of the bottom two.



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Navan 15 Dungannon 15, Balreask Old
Old Crescent 20 Wanderers 19, Rosbrien
Rainey Old Boys 42 MU Barnhall 10, Hatrick Park
Skerries 28 Belfast Harlequins 14, Holmpatrick
Sunday’s Well 36 City of Derry 19, Irish Independent Park

Old Crescent had the measure of Wanderers in a titanic top of the table clash, finishing on just the right the side of a 20-19 verdict at Rosbrien. Ronan McKenna’s conversion of Val McDermott’s 45th-minute try proved to be the final scoring act of a game that ebbed and flowed throughout.

It was Brendan Guilfoyle’s Crescent whose early pressure paid off, hooker Cathal O’Reilly raiding over for a second minute try and out-half McKenna adding a penalty before winger Cathal Monaghan ran in an intercept try to complete a near-perfect opening 10 minutes from the hosts.

However, with their scrum getting on top, Wanderers hit back in impressive fashion as half-time approached. Number 8 Paddy Mallon forced his way over for a 30th minute try and quick hands put centre Joe Holland over in the corner, with Peter Brougham’s well-struck conversion reducing the arrears to 13-12.

The second half was only two minutes’ old when Niall O’Donoghue sprinted in for the Chaps’ third try and a six-point lead. However, McDermott responded just three minutes later for Crescent who, with Wanderers losing two players to the sin-bin, were able to hold on to win by the minimum.

Skerries are now in second place and just a point behind Crescent thanks to a 28-14 bonus point victory over Belfast Harlequins. On the historic occasion of the clubs’ first ever meeting at this level, Skerries centre Dara Lowndes crossed for two superb tries in a man-of-the-match performance.

An early Tim Emerson penalty had Harlequins leading before Skerries gradually took advantage of the strong wind behind them in the first half. They struggled for prolonged possession with penalties going each way at the breakdown, until scrum half Eoghan Carron crossed in the 28th minute after a solid maul set-up and good carries from Joe Glennon and Barry Murphy.

Lowndes then came into his own, bagging a quick-fire brace with Chris Tonge and Paul Devitt also carrying more of a threat with ball in hand. Lowndes’ second effort in the 39th minute saw him break two tackles to fire the Goats into a 21-3 half-time lead, with out-half Billy Mulcahy nailing all three conversions.

Harlequins were proving more than a match for Skerries, though, as Conor McAuley’s quickly-taken penalties had the home defence scrambling and Emerson booted two penalties to close the gap to 12 points. The margin was down to just seven points after the visitors used clean possession from a lineout to unleash their back-line and send Mark Gribben over in the corner for an unconverted 65th-minute try.

‘Quins had a try disallowed for crossing as they tried desperately to get back in level terms, but Skerries settled the issue with a tremendous fourth try with 78 minutes on the clock. Replacements Tom O’Hare, Kieran Leonard and Ruairi Woods made their presence felt during a fast-paced attack, before captain Mikey Sherlock used a loop move in midfield to hoover up the ground and lay a perfectly-timed inside pass back for onrushing replacements Maurice McAuley to run over unopposed by the posts.

Rainey Old Boys made it three wins on the trot with a runaway 42-10 success at home to MU Barnhall. Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss was in attendance at Hatrick Park to watch Rainey run in four final quarter tries, with the result leaving them just four points off the summit.

It was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from Barnhall in the first half. They established an early stranglehold of the scrum, forcing a penalty try and then holding Rainey scoreless from a series of penalties that were kicked to the corner. 

However, things began to unravel for them as half-time approached. After a superb strike from Simon Gillespie gave them a 10-6 lead in response to two Andrew Magrath efforts, the Blue Bulls leaked a try to Ulster Under-19 back Michael O’Neill who scored via a Magrath cross-field kick.

Out-half Magrath converted and also landed a late penalty to give John Andrews’ men a 16-10 buffer at the break, his fourth successful place-kick coming on the back of a powerful surge from Paul Pritchard, who carried strongly in the absence of Tim Barker and Tommy O’Hagan, and Barnhall’s second sin-binning (backs Michael Mellett and Matthew Alborough both saw yellow).

Worse followed for the Kildare men early in the second half when full-back Mellett picked up his second yellow for a late challenge on Rainey centre Josh McIlroy. Magrath missed the resulting penalty and Alborough returned to the pitch before Ronan McCusker had a comfortable finish for Rainey’s second try – 21-10.

The home side were able to add three converted tries during the closing stages to put 14-man Barnhall to the sword. Winger Nicholas Stirling’s chip through set up a lineout in an advanced position and crisp passing across the backs created a seven-pointer for centre Damien McMurray.

Barnhall’s attempts to respond were foiled by an ankle tap from Rainey scrum half Jason Bloomfield, clearing the way for McIlroy to close out the scoring with a well-taken brace of tries. Replacement Peter Stewart and South African hooker Brad Roberts earned plaudits for their build-up play, while Magrath topped up his kicking haul to 17 points.

Sunday’s Well ended their run of three defeats with a rousing six-try 36-19 triumph at home to City of Derry. The Corkmen climbed above Derry into eighth spot with returning winger Evan Geary and prop Evan O’Connell both crossing the whitewash to crown impressive performances.

The hosts’ well-organised defence frustrated Derry in the early exchanges, and from a turnover in the 15th minute, the ‘Well sprung forward with Geary cutting inside off the right wing and linking with full-back Luke O’Dea who ran in the opening try, converted with aplomb by Shane O’Riordan.

Despite being hampered by injuries which led to uncontested scrums, Derry were level by the half hour mark and they took their try tally to three by the finish, with centres David Graham and Paddy Blennerhassett and full-back Thomas Cole all touching down. But the ‘Well’s own attack is in a rich vein of form as they put together back-to-back try-scoring bonus points.

Geary’s try nudged them back in front for half-time – 12-7 – and the increasingly influential O’Connell grabbed try number three when breaking off a maul a few metres out. O’Dea, the former Munster player, showed his class as a balanced runner, tiptoeing along the right touchline to pass back inside to set up James Mulcahy’s bonus point score. Some lovely interplay between Paul Derham and Robert O’Keeffe was a feature of the build-up.

Peter Scott’s charges were not finished yet. Winger Darren Loftus and replacement Robert O’Keeffe crashed over in the 65th and 68th minutes respectively to wrap up the result. A late Derry rally produced two consolation scores but Trevor Will’s young side were outplayed for much of the game.

Navan and Dungannon remain locked level in mid-table following their 15-all draw at Balreask Old. Navan were on course to snap a two-match losing streak when building an eight-point lead after the first quarter, but Andy Hughes’ Dungannon side earned a share of the spoils with an improved second half display.