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Ulster Bank League: Division 2A Review

Ulster Bank League: Division 2A Review

There was a flood of activity at Division 2A clubs on Friday with four local derbies taking place. Table-topping Malone were beaten for the first time this season with Queen’s claiming their scalp, while Saturday’s only game saw Highfield close the gap on the Cregagh Red Sox to a single point.

City of Armagh 17 Highfield 29, Palace Grounds
Blackrock College 17 Greystones 8, Stradbrook (played on Friday)
Cashel 10 Nenagh Ormond 6, Spafield (played on Friday)
Galwegians 7 Corinthians 7, Crowley Park (played on Friday)
Malone 11 Queen’s University 20, Gibson Park (played on Friday)

This season sees the introduction of the #UBLTry of the Month award with a prize of 250 euro for each monthly winner and entry into the Try of the Year award.
Recent Ulster debutant Jonny Stewart had a key influence as a second half replacement, helping to swing a tight game in Queen’s favour. He scored the students’ second try as they took the spoils against Malone (20-11) in a tightly-contested Belfast derby.
In damp and drizzly conditions, there were near-misses at both ends in a pacy opening spell. From a five-metre scrum, Malone had a clearance kick charged down with the loose ball bouncing over the end-line. The hosts then threatened through their backs, however centre Michael Cartmill missed out on a breakthrough try due to a forward pass.
While the Queen’s back row of captain Nigel Simpson, Jonny Lees and Dave Whitten held the edge at the breakdown, out-half Ritchie McMaster was winning the territorial battle with clever positioning to cover kicks and the students’ backs showing the greater hunger and desire when in possession.
Malone were guilty of some uncharacteristic handling errors, allowing McMaster to open the scoring with a 35th minute penalty. However, Malone ended the first half with a 5-3 lead after some high-quality ball retention in the Queen’s 22 led to centre Nathan Brown breaking through for an unconverted try in the corner.
The visitors made the stronger start to the second period, playing with greater tempo and accuracy. Centre Rory Bell carried forcefully and with the Malone defence stretched by Queen’s pace, outstanding number 8 Whitten deservedly reached over for a try which McMaster converted for a 10-5 scoreline.
Malone’s response was again immediate as winger Rory Campbell fired over a 35-metre penalty to make it a two-point game. Stewart’s introduction, combined with the pace off the mark of the students’ back-three, including Ireland Under-20 winger Mark Keane, kept Queen’s playing in the right areas of the pitch.
McMaster and Campbell swapped penalties at 13-11, with Malone also opting to change their scrum half as Connor Spence made way for Shane Kelly. The Cregagh Red Sox unfortunately fell foul of referee Jonathan Peak’s whistle just when it looked like they were turning the screw. Costly penalties against Malone allowed Queen’s to clear from their 22 with the hosts emerging pointless.
Neil Doak’s youngsters then struck for the game’s decisive try, the tireless Lees finding a hole in the home defence and Stewart then managing to dart over from 20 metres out with McMaster adding the extras. Suddenly, there were nine points between the sides with the final quarter left to play.
Malone boss Paddy Armstrong looked to his bench to lead the fight-back, but the closing 20 minutes were stop-start and another promising attack was foiled when Malone conceded a penalty in try-scoring range, while replacement hooker Scott Finlay also dropped a Josh Pentland cross-field kick with the line in sight. Queen’s also successfully dealt with a Peter Cooper break, as the hosts’ handling – under pressure from a stubborn defence – let them down again.
Also on Friday night, Blackrock College recovered from an early eight-point deficit to overcome Leinster rivals Greystones on a 17-8 scoreline at Stradbrook. Winger Jack Keating crossed for the ‘Stones try in testing weather conditions, but a much-improved scrummaging display from ‘Rock was key to their comeback.
Mick Carroll’s men forced a penalty try from a five-metre scrum just before half-time, cutting the gap to a single point. The scrum proved crucial again in setting up winger David Scott-Lennon’s lead penalty in the 67th minute, and Blackrock crossed out wide six minutes later to put the game beyond the reach of last season’s Division 2B champions.
Eamon Connolly’s superbly-created and finished 30th-minute try propelled Cashel to a stirring 10-6 derby victory over Nenagh Ormond at Spafield. Making light of the lashing rain, influential out-half Darragh Lyons picked out Brian Fitzpatrick on halfway with an ambitious cross-field kick, the winger taking on the defence before sending a grubber kick through for full-back Connolly to nudge the ball forward and touch down in the corner.
Lyons tagged on a tremendous touchline conversion, which bounced over with the aid of the crossbar, and also was successful with a 54th minute penalty, punishing a high tackle on Michael Casey. Two Clayton Stewart penalties earned a losing bonus point for Nenagh who have now lost two on the bounce in the league, ahead of their historic Limerick Charity Cup final clash with Garryowen this Friday.
Nenagh’s night began on a frustrating note in Cashel with their full-back Jamie McGarry seeing yellow for tackling Fitzpatrick in the air, six minutes in. However, they dug deep in defence to force a knock-on. In very difficult kicking conditions, Lyons hit the post with his first penalty attempt and the unfortunate Stewart was wide with his first three place-kicks.
Cashel’s 7-0 interval lead was cut by Stewart’s first successful kick, seven minutes after the restart, as Nenagh gained points from a sustained bout of pressure. Lyons cancelled out that kick to put the hosts into double figures and although Stewart doubled his tally, Cashel kept their Tipperary rivals at arm’s length for the remainder.

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Meanwhile, centre Paddy O’Toole and talismanic captain Miah Cronin played starring roles in Highfield’s clinical 29-17 bonus point triumph at City of Armagh.
O’Toole finished with 14 points for the second-placed side, who are now just a point behind Malone, while experienced back rower Cronin (two tries) and Colin O’Neill also crossed the whitewash at the Palace Grounds.
It was Cronin who broke the deadlock with a well-taken 29th-minute try, before a penalty for offside allowed Armagh out-half Cormac Fox to open their account – 7-3.
With Highfield beginning to take greater control of the game, Cronin completed his brace to put 11 points between the sides, but the Ulstermen hit back with a converted score from centre John Faloon, following some determined forward drives.
Nonetheless, Tim Ryan’s charges embarked on a crucial run of scores to give themselves a match-winning cushion. O’Toole landed a penalty before two Armagh errors saw the visitors touch down twice in the final 12 minutes. Winger O’Neill and O’Toole were the scorers.
Armagh did manage to have the final say with a consolation try but it was not enough for a losing bonus point. Winger Robbie Faloon kicked a loose ball ahead to score in the left corner with Fox drawing over the difficult conversion.
The Galway city derby at Crowley Park finished in a seven-all draw, with two penalty tries the only scores that Galwegians and Corinthians could produce on a dark and miserably wet night out west.
Morgan Codyre, with two misses, and Mark McDermott both failed with penalty attempts during a scoreless first half played in rain and windswept conditions, the sides also suffering a yellow card apiece. Corinthians full-back Colm de Buitlear was sin-binned for a professional foul and Galwegians’ Brian Murphy followed him, following the intervention of a touch judge.
The Galwegians scrum turned on the power with a strong second shunt to secure a penalty try in the 54th minute, only for the visitors to hit back just two minutes later. A spilled restart gave Corinthians an attacking scrum and referee Shane Kierans subsequently awarded them a penalty try and sin-binned ‘Wegians number 8 Jack Winters for a no-arms tackle right on the ‘Wegians line.
With a stiff breeze behind him, Connacht Academy centre Kieran Joyce was short and wide with a long range 66th-minute penalty for Corinthians. The Blues were also kept scoreless from a couple of promising attacks late on, including a five-metre lineout and a last-minute break from Codyre, who scythed through from halfway but failed to spot unmarked prop Jason East on his inside shoulder.

Match Photos:

City of Armagh v Highfield – Ken Redpath/City of Armagh RFC