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All-Ireland League Division 1B: Round 14 Review

All-Ireland League Division 1B: Round 14 Review

Ballynahinch moved up one place to third after getting the better of Naas at Ballymacarn Park ©Neil Biggerstaff

Buccaneers bucked the trend for home wins in Division 1B last weekend, as they won at former leaders Malone to move out of the bottom two. Old Wesley have gone four points clear at the summit, while fellow promotion hopefuls Ballynahinch and City of Armagh also enjoyed victories.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, March 2

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OLD WESLEY 22 BANBRIDGE 0, Energia Park
Scorers: Old Wesley: Tries: Paul Harte, Conor Barry, Josh Pim; Cons: Rory Stynes 2; Pen: Rory Stynes
Banbridge: –
HT: Old Wesley 10 Banbridge 0

The early kick-off on Saturday afternoon saw table toppers Old Wesley hold Banbridge scoreless as tries from Paul Harte, replacement Conor Barry and Josh Pim guided Morgan Lennon’s men to their sixth win in seven league games.

This keenly-contested fixture at Energia Park saw Wesley full-back Rory Stynes open the scoring, landing a third-minute penalty goal from just inside the Banbridge half. Play took place mainly between the two 22s in a rather listless first quarter, which included a missed penalty from Bann’s Ian Porter.

A powerful burst by prop Michael Cromie should have seen the visitors convert their territory into points, but they were let down by a subsequent knock-on and then another handling error via a five-metre lineout. Wesley’s clinical edge was evident when a penalty set them up in the Bann 22 and Alan Gaughan’s deft kick in behind was gobbled up by winger Harte for a smashing try, converted by Stynes.

Leading 10-0 at the break, Wesley’s varied attack continued to cause problems for Bann who avoided the concession of another try from a chip through. An interception had Simon McKinstry’s side on the hunt for an elusive try, but James O’Donovan produced a crucial cover tackle and, intervening again in defence, Tommy O’Callaghan and JJ O’Dea came up with a couple of important turnovers deep in the 22.

Wesley had a couple of near misses at the other end, prop Cronan Gleeson fed possession from a charge-down but Bann scrambling to deny him in the act of scoring. The windy conditions had a role in the usually reliable Stynes putting a penalty wide, but there was nothing Banbridge could do when Barry powered through from a ruck to touch down, carrying two defenders with him over the line.

The conversion was added by Stynes to open up a 17-point advantage, and frustratingly for Bann, they blew another scoring opportunity with an overcooked kick to touch which went dead. Indeed, it was Wesley who added to their lead late on when some strong carries and mauls put the pack in position and flanker Pim grounded the ball.

OLD WESLEY: Rory Stynes; Tommy O’Callaghan, David Poff, James O’Donovan, Paul Harte (capt); Alan Gaughan, Charlie O’Regan; Harry Noonan, Ben Burns, Cronan Gleeson, JJ O’Dea, Iain McGann, Darren Horan, Josh Pim, Paul Derham.

Replacements: Craig Telford, Ciaran McHugh, Conor Barry, Lachlan Anderson, Josh Miller.

BANBRIDGE: Adam Doherty; Conor Field, Andrew Morrison, Jonny Little, Adam Ervine; Ian Porter, Jonny Stewart; Michael Cromie (capt), Jonny Murphy, Stuart Cromie, Alex Thompson, Chris Allen, Caleb Montgomery, Ethan Harbinson, Stevie Irvine.

Replacements: Peter Cromie, Callum Reid, Robin Sinton, David McCann, John Porter.

BALLYNAHINCH 13 NAAS 5, Ballymacarn Park
Scorers: Ballynahinch: Try: Zack McCall; Con: Johnny McPhillips; Pens: Johnny McPhillips 2
Naas: Try: Adam Coyle
HT: Ballynahinch 0 Naas 5

Ballynahinch showed complete mastery of very difficult weather conditions to defeat promotion rivals Naas and climb into third place. Johnny McPhillips was released by Ulster and played a key role, converting a Zack McCall try and kicking his second successful penalty with the last kick of the game.

A howling near gale-force wind added to some torrential downpours made conditions tough for players and spectators alike. Naas had the advantage of the elements in the first half but found Ballynahinch tough and stubborn opponents and it remained scoreless until Leinster-capped prop Adam Coyle crossed in the 23rd minute.

Coyle’s front row colleague Graham Reynolds ripped the ball from a ruck on the 10-metre line, linking with Jordan Duggan and Paulie Tolofua who made some good yards before feeding Coyle and he showed great pace on the right wing to sprint clear and score in the corner. Peter Osborne’s conversion attempt bounced back off the post.

The Cobras needed a bigger lead given the strength of the wind, but Osborne missed a penalty after a strong scrum from the Naas eight. Ballynahinch opened the second half in formidable fashion, barely giving the visitors a touch of the ball for the first ten minutes and they edged ahead with a 52nd-minute converted try.

McCall, the 24-year-old Ulster Academy hooker, picked from a ruck and drove over the line – with support from Jonny Blair – just beside to the posts after a series of punishing carries had taken ‘Hinch deep into Naas territory. McCall’s provincial colleague McPhillips converted for a 7-5 scoreline. Keeping control of play, the hosts barely allowed Naas out of their own half.

A long-range 71st-minute penalty from out-half McPhillips took ‘Hinch five points clear, and as the game reached its conclusion, they were camped again on the opposition line after a great tackle from Rory Butler dislodged the ball and ‘Hinch kicked through. Captain Aaron Cairns went close but Naas held out.

The Kildare men, who had beaten leaders Malone last time out, should have taken home a losing bonus point but their decision to run the ball in, deep into injury-time, backfired when they gave away a penalty for holding on at a ruck. McPhillips duly stepped up to make it an eight-point winning margin.

BALLYNAHINCH: Ross Adair; Richard Reaney, Robin Harte, Rory Butler, Aaron Cairns (capt); Johnny McPhillips, Rhys O’Donnell; Jonny Blair, Zack McCall, Conor Piper, John Donnan, Jack Regan, Keith Dickson, Bradley Luney, Conall Boomer.

Replacements: Claytan Milligan, Ben Cullen, Graham McKittrick, Ryan Wilson, George Pringle.

NAAS: Fionn Carr; Fionn Higgins, Andy Ellis, Johne Murphy, Ben O’Connor; Peter Hastie, Peter Osborne; Jordan Duggan, Graham Reynolds, Adam Coyle, Paul Monahan, David Benn, Ryan Casey, Will O’Brien, Paulie Tolofua (capt).

Replacements: Conor Doyle, Jack Barry, Ruadhan McDonnell, Niall Delahunt, Richard Fahy.

CITY OF ARMAGH 27 BALLYMENA 15, Palace Grounds
Scorers: City of Armagh: Tries: Neil Faloon, Shea O’Brien, Tim McNiece, Penalty try; Cons: Chris Cousens, Pen try con; Pen: Cormac Fox
Ballymena: Tries: Paddy James, Matthew Norris; Con: Tim Small; Pen: Tim Small
HT: City of Armagh 12 Ballymena 10

Conditions were horrendous with a gale force wind and driving rain at the Palace Grounds where City of Armagh prevailed by 12 points in their fourth meeting of the season with Ballymena across the Ulster competitions and the All-Ireland League.

It was wind-backed Ballymena who dominated the opening quarter, putting together numerous attacking phases in the Armagh 22 and only heroic defending kept them out. Out-half Tim Small clipped a 30-metre penalty through the posts to give the visitors a deserved 15th-minute lead.

After Small missed a second penalty attempt, the Armagh pack pressed for a try and Nigel Simpson and Paul Mullen were both stopped short. From successive penalties, the home side opted for scrums and number 8 Neil Faloon broke off the back for a well-taken try which Chris Cousens converted despite a difficult kick.

The Braidmen fell 12-3 behind just two minutes later when Chris Colvin picked up a loose ball on halfway and although he was tackled short of the line, the Armagh captain managed to pop the ball back for winger Shea O’Brien to run in an unconverted try. But Ballymena clawed back those seven points right on the cusp of half-time.

Andy Graham’s charges capitalised on Oisin Kiernan’s sin-binning as they attacked to the right of a scrum and centre Paddy James broke through to score with Small converting for a 12-10 scoreline. Yet, Cormac Fox came off the bench to kick a 45th minute penalty and steady the ship for Armagh.

The Ulster Senior Cup champions need more resilient defending to avoid conceding a try soon after, with Stephen Mulholland, captain Marcus Rea and Connor Smyth all prominent up front for Ballymena and Matthew Norris poising a threat from full-back. A crucial turnover allowed Armagh to clear the danger and Faloon then had them back on the front foot.

Mullen, Andrew Smyth and Kiernan came up trumps at scrum time to win a 63rd-minute penalty try, opening up a 12-point advantage, but Ballymena hung in there and reduced the arrears to 22-15 with 10 minutes remaining. Michael Stronge broke to the blindside of a scrum and fed Norris to cross for their second try.

It was a closely-fought finish to the game and Armagh full-back Tim McNiece sealed the deal with a classy 78th-minute solo try, accelerating into space from the 10-metre line, selling a dummy and sprinting clear all the way to the whitewash. Head coach Willie Faloon was pleased to come out of the derby with maximum points.

“Ballymena were always going to be a tough side for us today and the weather conditions, just like at the recent Ulster Senior Cup final, largely made free flowing rugby impossible,” he said. “Our defence again did us proud, but we’ll have to step up a few more rungs in the ladder to get a result against St. Mary’s who are just two points behind us in the table.”

CITY OF ARMAGH: Tim McNiece; Evin Crummie, Chris Colvin (capt), Chris Cousens, Shea O’Brien; Jonny Pollock, Harry Doyle; Oisin Kiernan, Jack Treanor, Paul Mullen, Peter Starrett, Josh McKinley, James Morton, Nigel Simpson, Neil Faloon.

Replacements: Andrew Smyth, Philip Fletcher, James Hanna, Cormac Fox, Gerard Treanor.

BALLYMENA: Matthew Norris; Jonny Rosborough, Paddy James, Darrell Montgomery, Glenn Baillie; Tim Small, Michael Stronge; Josh Bill, Andrew Ferguson, Chris Cundell, JJ McKee, Connor Smyth, Phil Campbell, Marcus Rea (capt), Stephen Mulholland.

Replacements: Nacho Cladera Crespo, Jonny Spence, Jonny Browne, Matty Dick, Jordan Foster.

MALONE 6 BUCCANEERS 11, Gibson Park
Scorers: Malone: Pens: Mark O’Connor 2
Buccaneers: Try: Mark Balaski; Pens: Luke Carty 2
HT: Malone 3 Buccaneers 8

Buccaneers inflicted only the second home defeat of the season on Malone when they won a tight Division 1B encounter 11-6 in difficult conditions at Gibson Park. On the back of their fourth win in five outings, Buccs were finally rewarded in making some overdue ground up, moving into seventh spot in the table.

On a squally afternoon, a blustery diagonal breeze made life difficult for both teams with scoring chances at a premium. The midlanders had first advantage of the elements and had the better of the forward exchanges, winning regular scrum penalties. A ninth-minute place-kick saw Luke Carty take his season’s haul to 103 points.

A thumping Kieran Joyce tackle ended Malone’s first real threat following a penalty to touch, and Carty then made terrific ground with an excellent penalty on the right. Following the lineout, Buccaneers fizzed the ball across the back-line to Mark Balaski. The Under-20 winger eyed the cover before powering through Mark O’Connor’s tackle to cap his debut with an excellent 21st-minute unconverted try wide on the left.

Ben Halliday replaced Ricky Greenwood in the home front row as Buccs continued to apply steady pressure that was intense around the half hour mark with Joyce and Rory Moloney both going close to crossing the line. But the Pirates’ handling let them down on a number of occasions.

Four minutes before half-time, Layden put in a crunching tackle on O’Connor but Malone recycled the ball to scrum half Graham Curtis who headed right before offloading to his left where the ball hit the retreating Peter Claffey. Referee Chris Lough showed the Buccs lock a yellow card and O’Connor slotted over the resulting 36th-minute penalty.

Although their lead was cut to 8-3, Buccs rode out this hiccup and there were few incidents of note up to the hour mark of what was a defence-dominated contest. As the game entered the final quarter, the visitors piled fierce pressure on and a spate of penalties had Malone in all sorts of trouble.

Ulster prop Ross Kane was sin-binned in the 64th minute with Carty kicking the penalty to put Buccs 11-3 ahead. As conditions brightened in the closing stages, Rory O’Connor mishandled a hopeful Malone kick ahead and then threw a loose pass that gave the Belfast side possession inside Buccaneers 22 at last.

Suddenly, the hosts upped their efforts and the Pirates got nervy with Moloney seeing yellow in the 76th minute when going offside in front of the posts. O’Connor split the posts with the kick – earning a losing bonus point which keeps them second in the standings – but determined Buccs regrouped to see out the remaining time for a well-deserved victory.

MALONE: Andy Bryans; Chris Jordan, Josh Pentland, Nathan Brown, Mark O’Connor; Callum Smith, Graham Curtis; Ross Kane, Adam McBurney, Ricky Greenwood, Ryan Clarke, Matthew Dalton, Dave Cave, Ross Todd (capt), Joe Dunleavy.

Replacements: Dan Kerr, Ben Halliday, James McAllister, Shane Kelly, Jack McMurtry.

BUCCANEERS: Shane Layden (capt); Rory O’Connor, Corey Reid, Kieran Joyce, Mark Balaski; Luke Carty, Frankie Hopkins; Conan O’Donnell, John Sutton, Conor Kenny, Peter Claffey, Joe Maksymiw, Sean Masterson, Rory Moloney, Evan Galvin.

Replacements: Martin Staunton, Darren Browne, Ruairi Byrne, Colm Reilly, Michael Hanley.

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE 10 OLD BELVEDERE 7, Templeville Road
Scorers: St. Mary’s College: Try: Conor Dean; Con: Conor Dean; Pen: Conor Dean
Old Belvedere: Try: Jack Keating; Con: Steve Crosbie
HT: St. Mary’s College 7 Old Belvedere 7

Connacht Academy out-half Conor Dean did all the scoring as St. Mary’s College made it two wins out of three with a narrow but deserved victory over south Dublin rivals Old Belvedere at Templeville Road.

David Aspil, Liam Corcoran and Ronan Watters, a recent Ireland Under-20 debutant, all returned to the Mary’s line-up and made a big difference. The hosts played into the elements in the first half but quickly got on the scoreboard thanks to Dean’s sixth-minute try, which came from a brilliant multi-phase attack.

Their ball retention was excellent during a three-minute spell, with Hugo Conway going close before quick recycling set up Dean who sold a dummy and broke to the right, his arcing run taking him over to the right of the posts. Despite the best efforts of Steve Crosbie and company, Belvedere were unable to respond initially.

That was until the stroke of half-time when Mary’s leaked a penalty, ‘Belvo kicked for the corner, mauled and recycled before out-half Crosbie’s crisply-struck cross-field kick played in waiting winger Jack Keating for his 10th try of the league season. Crosbie also added a fine conversion to level the sides at seven points apiece.

However, a 49th minute penalty from Dean proved to be the only score of a gripping second half, the former Ireland Under-20 international just clearing the crossbar from long range as he rewarded his front row for a ground-gaining scrum. Now facing into the wind and rain, Belvedere did retain the ball in impressive fashion but they were met with a dogged Mary’s defence.

Hooker Richie Halpin was a real dynamo for Mary’s, having a big game defensively and at set piece time, and openside Watters came up with a vital turnover to end a promising spell for ‘Belvo as they hunted for a match-winning try. Mary’s head coach Steve Hennessy was a pleased man afterwards when speaking to Irish Rugby TV.

“We played some unbelievable rugby to lead 7-0 playing into the wind, the ball retention was absolutely phenomenal given the conditions. We had a lot of possession and should have gone in ahead, and they scored right on half-time which was a bit of a dampener for us,” said Hennessy.

“But we said obviously we’ve got to use the wind (in the second half), play territory. Now we played very well last week at Buccaneers and lost. We reckon that Belvedere had played two matches recently and weren’t really tested, so we felt if we could get in amongst them, come up in a line and knock them back like skittles, then we might cause them some difficulties.

“We were very, very impressive defensively today and that’s effectively what won us the game. We also had a full side out for the first time in a while. The two (Ireland) Under-20 players were released, we had David Aspil back. We’d two second rows when we only had one going down to Buccaneers. That’s not an excuse, it’s a squad system.”

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, Liam Corcoran, David Aspil, Ronan Watters, Nick McCarthy.

Replacements: Stephen O’Brien, Padraig Dundon, Sean Heeran, Cormac Foley, Darren Moroney.

OLD BELVEDERE: Joe White; Jack Keating, Tom Molony, Ben Carty, Fergus Flood; Steve Crosbie (capt), Peter O’Beirne; Adam Howard, Ed Rossiter, Roman Salanoa, Jack Kelly, Connor Owende, Gerard Hill, Eoin O’Neill, Karl Miller.

Replacements: John McKee, Declan Lavery, Ethan Baxter, Jamie McAleese, Toby Robinson.