Old Wesley’s 50-point blitzing of Ballymena completed the full set of five wins in Ulster for Morgan Lennon’s men. It also saw them take over top spot in Division 1B from Malone who lost 22-20 at Naas due to Peter Osborne’s coolly-struck 84th-minute penalty.
ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, February 23
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BALLYMENA 7 OLD WESLEY 57, Eaton Park
Scorers: Ballymena: Try: Connor Smyth; Con: Tim Small
Old Wesley: Tries: Cronan Gleeson, Paul Harte, Paul Derham, Charlie O’Regan, Andrew McCrann, Darren Horan, David Poff, Josh Miller; Cons: Rory Stynes 7; Pen: Rory Stynes
HT: Ballymena 7 Old Wesley 15
Old Wesley produced a sparkling eight-try performance to hit the summit of Division 1B, as bottom side Ballymena worryingly leaked over 50 points to their opponents for the second week running.
Playing with the wind, Wesley started brightly and the division’s top points scorer Rory Stynes landed the first of two penalty attempts to get them on the board. The visitors kicked for the corner on two subsequent occasions but Ballymena defended smartly and were able to keep their line intact.
Indeed, the Braidmen’s first foray into Wesley resulted in a converted 20th-minute try as flanker Connor Smyth crossed following a thwarted lineout maul near the right corner. Wesley’s positive reaction saw them build pressure off a scrum with prop Cronan Gleeson eventually rolling over a defender to make it 8-7.
The penalty count was rising against Ballymena and referee Ken Imbusch yellow-carded both Paddy James and tighthead Chris Cundell in quick succession. Wesley used the numerical advantage to send scrum ball wide to captain Paul Harte who outpaced two chasing defenders to get over in the corner. Stynes raised the flags with a brilliant touchline conversion, giving his side a 15-7 lead to take into the second half.
The Dubliners continued where they had left off, gradually dismantling the Ballymena defence and showing an impressive ruthlessness in their execution of the scoring opportunities that they created. The hosts’ indiscipline led to a third yellow card for replacement front rower Andrew Ferguson.
Wesley’s influential number 8 Paul Derham dotted down from a very well constructed maul, with the reliable Stynes converting again for a 22-7 scoreline. A superb breakaway try earned the visitors their bonus point as they began to run the tiring Ballymena defence ragged.
Tommy O’Callaghan’s 50th-minute rip in the tackle and excellent running from the winger and James O’Donovan led to the supporting Charlie O’Regan timing his run perfectly to ghost in between two defenders and dive in behind the posts. Stynes converted and Wesley were far from finished, as four of their replacements shared out their other four tries.
The floodgates opened and Wesley ran riot in the final quarter, with Darren Horan stretching over after Derham had been held up short from a close-in scrum, and David Poff got on the scoresheet following breaks by Horan and Stynes. The latter finished with 17 points – seven conversions and a penalty – and the try haul was completed by Andrew McCrann and Josh Miller, via a Horan kick through.
BALLYMENA: Tim Small; Glenn Baillie, Paddy James, Darrell Montgomery, Matthew Norris; Bruce Houston, Michael Stronge; Nacho Cladera Crespo, Jonny Spence, Chris Cundell, David Whann, Connor Smyth, Connor White, Marcus Rea (capt), Phil Campbell.
Replacements: Andrew Ferguson, Josh Bill, Jonny Brown, Dean Reynolds, Jordan Foster.
OLD WESLEY: Rory Stynes; Tommy O’Callaghan, Alan Gaughan, James O’Donovan, Paul Harte (capt); Tim Clifford, Charlie O’Regan; Ciaran McHugh, Ben Burns, Cronan Gleeson, JJ O’Dea, Iain McGann, Conor Barry, Josh Pim, Paul Derham.
Replacements: Andrew McCrann, Harry Noonan, Darren Horan, Josh Miller, David Poff.
BANBRIDGE 17 BALLYNAHINCH 18, Rifle Park
Scorers: Banbridge: Tries: Caleb Montgomery, Hugo Harbinson; Cons: Ian Porter 2; Pen: Ian Porter
Ballynahinch: Tries: Aaron Cairns, Ross Adair; Con: Richard Reaney; Pens: Richard Reaney 2
HT: Banbridge 14 Ballynahinch 12
Goal-kicking winger Richard Reaney kicked penalties after 65 and 72 minutes to steer Ballynahinch past Banbridge in a tense one-point comeback victory at Rifle Park. As well as moving them back into the top four, the result avenged last season’s heartbreaking play-off defeat at the same venue.
‘Hinch got off to a promising start with some excellent continuity earning them an early penalty following a typical James Simpson burst. Reaney’s place-kick was well short but the visitors put together another well-constructed sequence from the resulting lineout with Banbridge barely touching the ball in the first seven minutes.
Nonetheless, Bann showed how dangerous they can be by scoring from their very first attack. A loose Ross Adair kick allowed them to counter an Ulster Academy back rower Caleb Montgomery blasted through to score just to the left of the posts as the scrambling ‘Hinch defence was unable to plug the gap.
Bann denied Robin Harte, hauling him down short after Reaney had countered from a loose kick, and their powerful scrum then earned them a penalty to take them back into the ‘Hinch 22. An effective maul took the home forwards close before Ian Porter’s skip pass almost caught ‘Hinch cold, with their captain Aaron Cairns making an important try-scoring tackle out wide.
Simon McKinstry’s men kept the pressure on, and despite Montgomery knocking on just a few metres out, Bann conjured up their second converted try with a fantastic piece of interplay off a lineout. Winger Hugo Harbinson darted over untouched after excellent sleight of hand from hooker Jonny Murphy with a peach of an offload.
‘Hinch replied immediately with a great Cairns finish in the corner after strong carrying from Simpson and Jack Regan had set up quick ball for centre Rory Butler to feed his skipper for the try. After Reaney’s missed conversion, ‘Hinch full-back Adair took centre stage with a couple of brilliant moments in defence and attack.
The former Ulster and Jersey player and Reaney both made key tackles to prevent Banbridge from hitting back, before Adair fielded a poor kick on his 10-metre and waltzed through the heart of the Bann defence, twice flying past tacklers with a vicious sidestep to go over untouched for a certain Try of the Month contender. Reaney tagged on the extras to cut the gap to 14-12 at half-time.
The second period was a cagier affair and despite having the wind advantage, Brian McLaughlin’s charges found themselves playing a lot of rugby in their own half. Their young number 8 Conall Boomer continued his outstanding form with superb footwork gaining him extra yardage as he continued to carry hard at the Bann defence.
Banbridge talisman Porter knocked over a penalty to take the hosts five points clear at 17-12 and they were guilty of butchering an overlap which could have clinched the game. However, ‘Hinch stayed in the fight and as the game entered the final quarter they began to look more comfortable.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, Reaney stepped up to kick a well-struck penalty to reduce the arrears and he then put his side ahead with another vital strike inside the final 10 minutes. Despite an occasional threat from Bann, the visitors were able to hold onto their narrow lead and breathe new life into their promotion bid.
BANBRIDGE: Adam Doherty; Conor Field, Andrew Morrison, Jonny Little, Hugo Harbinson; Josh Cromie, Ian Porter; Michael Cromie (capt), Jonny Murphy, Stuart Cromie, Alex Thompson, Robin Sinton, Caleb Montgomery, Ethan Harbinson, Stevie Irvine.
Replacements: Peter Cromie, Corrie Barrett, Matthew Laird, Aaron Kennedy, Adam Ervine.
BALLYNAHINCH: Ross Adair; Richard Reaney, Robin Harte, Rory Butler, Aaron Cairns (capt); Ryan Wilson, Rhys O’Donnell; Jonny Blair, Zack McCall, Tom O’Toole, John Donnan, James Simpson, Jack Regan, Keith Dickson, Conall Boomer.
Replacements: Claytan Milligan, Ben Cullen, Bradley Luney, Paddy Wright, James McBriar, Connor Phillips.
BUCCANEERS 24 ST. MARY’S COLLEGE 17, Dubarry Park
Scorers: Buccaneers: Tries: Conan O’Donnell, Eoghan Masterson, Rory O’Connor, Corey Reid; Cons: Luke Carty 2
St. Mary’s College: Tries: Ruairi Shields, Craig Kennedy, Marcus O’Driscoll; Con: Paddy O’Driscoll
HT: Buccaneers 17 St. Mary’s College 5
Buccaneers bounced back from last weekend’s last-gasp loss in Armagh to record a vital 24-17 bonus point success against St. Mary’s College. Connacht head coach Andy Friend was in Athlone to watch two of his provincial players, Conan O’Donnell and Eoghan Masterson, cross the whitewash.
Conditions were near perfect at the midlands venue, St. Mary’s having first advantage of a diagonal breeze but Buccs stood firm early on and then scored from their first real break after 10 minutes. Man-of-the-match Torin Rensford thundered forward before linking with Frankie Hopkins who popped an offload out of a tackle for Rory O’Connor to touch down on the right.
It was five points apiece just three minutes later when Mary’s developed an overlap on the left and full-back Ruairi Shields squared things up. Nonetheless, that proved to be the visitors’ only first half score as Buccs responded with a 21st-minute maul try from prop O’Donnell which was also unconverted.
Mary’s then came under further pressure through a series of pick-and-goes from the Pirates, with captain Shane Layden and Kieran Joyce kept out before number 8 Masterson stretched over on the right for his third try in two games. Connacht Academy out-half Luke Carty converted for a 17-5 interval lead.
The home side, who lost Masterson’s younger brother Sean to the sin-bin, defended smartly before the half-time whistle, but the Mary’s attack clicked just two minutes into the second period. They went through a number of phases before sucking in the defensive cover and releasing winger Craig Kennedy to speed down the left for a five-pointer.
Buccaneers blew a gilt-edged chance when Eoghan Masterson’s forward pass ruined a three-on-one situation, and they were caught napping on the hour mark when Mary’s captain Marcus O’Driscoll intercepted just outside his own 22 and raced away to go in under the posts with Paddy O’Driscoll’s conversion making it 17-all.
Despite looking a little edgy, Buccs maintained their urgency and work-rate, keeping the visitors under pressure. A somewhat fortuitous try put them beyond the Dubliners’ reach with just seven minutes remaining. Corey Reid’s attempted grubber kick rebounded back to him and the young centre weaved through for the bonus point score near the posts, which Carty converted.
BUCCANEERS: Callum Boland; Rory O’Connor, Corey Reid, Kieran Joyce, Shane Layden (capt); Luke Carty, Frankie Hopkins; Conan O’Donnell, John Sutton, Conor Kenny, Ruairi Byrne, Torin Rensford, Sean Masterson, Rory Moloney, Eoghan Masterson.
Replacements: Martin Staunton, Rory Grenham, Evan Galvin, Graham Lynch, Michael Hanley.
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE: Ruairi Shields; Hugo Conway, Myles Carey, Marcus O’Driscoll (capt), Craig Kennedy; Conor Dean, Paddy O’Driscoll; Tom O’Reilly, Richie Halpin, Michael McCormack, Hugo Diepman, Daragh McDonnell, Daniel Lyons, Nick McCarthy, Mark Fallon.
Replacements: Stephen O’Brien, Padraig Dundon, Sean Heeran, Tim MacMahon, Darren Moroney.
NAAS 22 MALONE 20, Forenaughts
Scorers: Naas: Tries: Peter Hastie, Andy Ellis, Fionn Higgins; Cons: Peter Osborne 2; Pen: Peter Osborne
Malone: Tries: Peter Cooper, Ricky Greenwood; Cons: Mark O’Connor 2; Pens: Mark O’Connor 2
HT: Naas 14 Malone 0
Scrum half Peter Osborne emerged as Naas’ late goal-kicking hero as his 84th-minute penalty saw them snatch a 22-20 victory from the jaws of defeat against Malone, who came into the round with a three-point lead at the top of the table.
Having lost to St. Mary’s last weekend, a fired-up Naas side quickly laid down a marker at Forenaughts but were held scoreless for the first 10 minutes. Just when it looked as if Malone had weathered the early storm, Naas centre Andy Ellis intercepted a 14th minute pass to run in his eighth try of the campaign, converted by Osborne.
The ever-accurate half-back also added the extras to Peter Hastie’s try on the half hour mark. Malone’s Callum Smith, who recently debuted for the Ireland Club team, failed to find touch with a kick which was fielded by Ben O’Connor whose long pass sent Fionn Higgins past an attempted tackle and he fed Hastie to go over in the far corner.
The Cregagh Red Sox could have been further behind than 14-0 at the break, as an Osborne penalty came back off the post and winger O’Connor was adjudged to have knocked on in the act of scoring. Malone burst out of the blocks on the restart, halving the deficit within seven minutes with a tremendous length-of-the-pitch try which was finished off by prop Peter Cooper and converted by Mark O’Connor.
Naas immediately hit back with their third try, winning the restart and teeing up the fleet-footed Higgins to chip over the defence and win the race to the touchdown. However, Malone ended the third quarter just 19-17 in arrears as O’Connor booted a 53rd-minute penalty and tagged on the conversion after tighthead Ricky Greenwood had crashed over.
A 20-minute scoreless spell was ended by a controversially-awarded penalty to Malone. Naas supporters felt aggrieved after captain Paulie Tolofua’s tackle on Ryan Clarke was deemed high by referee Shane Kierans. O’Connor split the posts but back came Naas, one last push in injury-time forcing a deliberate knock-on and Osborne nervelessly nailed the difficult kick.
NAAS: Fionn Carr; Ben O’Connor, Andy Ellis, Johne Murphy, Fionn Higgins; Peter Hastie, Peter Osborne; Jordan Duggan, Graham Reynolds, Adam Coyle, Paul Monahan, David Benn, James Connolly, Will O’Brien, Paulie Tolofua (capt).
Replacements: Conor Doyle, Jack Barry, Ryan Casey, Niall Delahunt, Richard Fahy.
MALONE: Andy Bryans; Rory Campbell, Josh Pentland, Nathan Brown, Mark O’Connor; Callum Smith, Shane Kelly; Peter Cooper, Dan Kerr, Ricky Greenwood, Ryan Clarke, Michael Shiels, Dave Cave, Ross Todd (capt), Joe Dunleavy.
Replacements: Ben Halliday, Josh Davidson, James McAllister, Connor Spence, Chris Jordan.
OLD BELVEDERE 29 CITY OF ARMAGH 5, Anglesea Road
Scorers: Old Belvedere: Tries: Peter O’Beirne, Ed Rossiter, Steve Crosbie, Jack Keating; Cons: Steve Crosbie 3; Pen: Steve Crosbie
City of Armagh: Try: Shea O’Brien
HT: Old Belvedere 22 City of Armagh 0
Captain Steve Crosbie and flying winger Jack Keating showed their class once again as Old Belvedere made it back-to-back bonus point wins with a 29-5 defeat of injury-hit City of Armagh at Anglesea Road.
Jack Treanor and John Clarke made their debuts in the Armagh front row, with Willie Faloon’s men having four props unavailable and two hookers out injured. The visitors made a poor start as Belvedere countered from a box-kick, building through the phases before scrum half Peter O’Beirne capitalised on a couple of missed tackles to dive in at the posts.
Backs-coach Crosbie converted that second-minute score and then set up ‘Belvo’s second try in the 14th minute, scything through some weak tackling to put hooker Ed Rossiter over and leave the scoreboard showing 12-0. The home side were equally effective in defence, soaking up carries from Neil Faloon, Nigel Simpson and James Hanna.
Springing through from first receiver, Crosbie cut open the defence for his own 30th-minute converted try and as Armagh’s tally of penalties conceded rose to eight, the former Leinster, Connacht and Munster ‘A’ out-half knocked over a penalty on the stroke of half-time to lead the Ulster Senior Cup champions trailing 22-0.
A stern half-time team talk from Phil Pollock and Dave Eakin, who standing in for Willie Faloon and Chris Parker, seemed to do the trick and Armagh had a much better second half. Rossiter was yellow carded early in the half for a late no-arms tackle on Shea O’Brien which many Armagh supporters felt could have been red.
Indeed, ‘Belvo went down to 13 men when a dangerous tackle on Neil Faloon also saw referee Dermot Blake again produce a yellow card. However, Armagh knocked on close to the Belvedere line when a bit more composure was required and they remained scoreless despite their numerical advantage.
The story of the second half for the visitors was knock-on after knock-on, coupled with the fact that Belvedere’s defence was very solid. Armagh also had to chase the game and continued to make mistakes allowing Crosbie to thread a ball through the defence for the final nail in the coffin, a score for Keating which took his division-leading haul to nine tries.
Although they only had pride to play for in the closing stages, Armagh rallied and some enterprising back-line play gained them a last-minute consolation score finished off by winger O’Brien who, with Cormac Fox replaced, tried to convert but failed.
OLD BELVEDERE: Joe White; Jack Keating, Tom Molony, Ben Carty, Fergus Flood; Steve Crosbie (capt), Peter O’Beirne; James Bollard, Ed Rositter, Roman Salanoa, Jack Kelly, Connor Owende, Eoin Sweeney, Eoin O’Neill, Karl Miller.
Replacements: John McKee, Adam Howard, Gerard Hill, David Butler, Jamie McAleese.
CITY OF ARMAGH: Tim McNiece; Evin Crummie, Chris Colvin (capt), Chris Cousens, Shea O’Brien; Cormac Fox, Gerard Treanor; Paul Mullen, Jack Treanor, John Clark, Peter Starrett, Josh McKinley, James Hanna, Nigel Simpson, Neil Faloon.
Replacements: Matthew Nelson, Simon Carlisle, James Morton, Jonny Pollock, Harry Doyle.