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Fitzpatrick Brace Helps Lansdowne Get Back On Track
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Fitzpatrick Brace Helps Lansdowne Get Back On Track

Fitzpatrick Brace Helps Lansdowne Get Back On Track

Lansdowne got their Ulster Bank League season back on track with a 29-24 bonus point triumph over bottom side Ballynahinch. Elusive winger Ian Fitzpatrick bagged a brace of tries on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch.

Ballynahinch were hoping to complete a notable double over last year's champions, having beaten Mike Ruddock's men 25-13 at home last month. But Lansdowne were in clinical form in the first half as they cruised into a 24-9 lead.

Conditions could not have been more different to those experienced at Ballymacarn Park in early December, and a slight breeze was the only element on display in well nigh perfect playing conditions.

Lansdowne showed seven changes – five in the back-line – and, in addition to centres Tom Daly and Tom Farrell, also welcomed back scrum half Adam Griggs and winger Ian Fitzpatrick following long-term injuries.

A familiar face also featured in the forwards, with Charlie Butterworth – one of the heroes of the 2012/13 league title-winning side, returning to the Lansdowne back row following stints in the professional game with Ulster and Jersey.

The young Lansdowne pack had largely struggled in the previous encounter, as Ballynahinch used their rolling maul and rucking approach to dominate possession and deny the headquarters club the ball. From the outset on Saturday, however, it was evident that the home forwards were up for the fight, as they took on the 'Hinch pack from the first scrum and drove them backwards to win a penalty.

From the resultant lineout and with Daly and Butterworth both prominent, Lansdowne set up a promising attack which forced the visitors to concede a straightforward penalty which out-half Scott Deasy knocked over for an early 3-0 lead.

The next scrum led to another Lansdowne penalty and a good break by the lively Griggs was followed up by a block down by the same player. A slick back-line move then saw Fitzpatrick enter the line and the winger's speed carried him through the cover for the opening try in the 11th minute. Captain Deasy added the extras with a fine conversion from wide out.

'Hinch's goal-kicking winger Chris Quinn once again showed his prowess with a well-struck penalty from three metres inside the Lansdowne half after 15 minutes. He repeated the trick eight minutes later from a foot inside the Lansdowne half for 10-6, punishing Lansdowne for messing up at the back of a scrum.

Ruddock's charges adopted a policy of not engaging with the Ballynahinch lineout maul, using the tactic to good effect to neutralise one of the visitors' primary attacking ploys. Use of this tactic disrupted the Co. Down outfit, and a subsequent back-line move broke down in the face of strong Lansdowne tackling.

Fitzpatrick seized on the loose ball, made ground and then passed to Daly, who straightened and flipped the ball to the supporting Deasy who touched down in the left corner. The skipper converted from the touchline for a 17-6 Lansdowne lead after 28 minutes.

Even better was to come two minutes later when Deasy availed of a penalty advantage to float a teasing cross-field kick that was seized upon by the ever-alert Fitzpatrick. He skated home from the 10-metre line for his second try of the match, with Deasy once again landing the conversion.

Lansdowne continued to make the running, and good play by back rower Max Deegan and centres Daly and Farrell almost saw Joe O'Brien put Fitzpatrick in for a further try. Nothing came of it, however, and Quinn had the last say of the first half with another fine effort from just inside the Lansdowne half.

Leading 24-9 at half time, the home side set their sights on the bonus point from the restart. Two further electric bursts from the dynamic Fitzpatrick could have resulted in a further try for the winger, only scrambling defence from the visitors keeping their opponents at bay.

Nonetheless, Lansdowne build up great momentum in a series of attacking lineouts from penalties, and were rewarded when their promising young second row James Ryan crossed from a driving maul for his debut try for the club.

With the scoreboard showing 29-9 and the bonus point in the bag, Lansdowne appeared to take their foot off the pedal and a series of substitutions seemed to disrupt the side's cohesion.

To their credit, Ballynahinch never gave up and raised their game to the extent that it was not inconceivable before the end that they could snatch an improbable victory. First, winger Adam Craig crossed in the 60th minute and then lively number 8 Conor Joyce did the same as the Lansdowne cover defence faltered. Quinn converted the latter's score and suddenly the gap was reduced to 29-21.    

Ulster Academy prop Craig Trenier was always prominent for the visitors, and was ably supported by Joyce, hard-working hooker Zack McCall and skipper Paul Pritchard, who had an excellent match.

Lansdowne were on the back foot, and a great cover tackle by winger Mark Roche saved an anxious moment. A great turnover by prop Ian Prendiville also helped relieve the mounting pressure, but the respite was only temporary.

A further 'Hinch attack was halted by a great aerial take by full-back Eamonn Mills. This helped set up a counter-attack from which Fitzpatrick was again unlucky not to score as the match see-sawed from end to end with both teams seeking to deliver the killer blow.

Quinn reduced the margin further with his fourth successful penalty on 70 minutes. From the restart, Fitzpatrick was adjudged to have hit the catcher in the air, and a yellow card brought an early end to his afternoon.

Lansdowne knuckled back down to the task and, despite one or two hairy moments, held out for a memorable win which had everyone watching holding their breaths until the very last minute. A great match and a tribute to both sides.

Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)
 

Lineups Scorers

Match Lineups

Home Team

Eamonn Mills; Mark Roche, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Ian Fitzpatrick; Scott Deasy (capt), Adam Griggs; Jack Barry, Jack McKenna, Ian Prendiville, Philip Donnellan, James Ryan, Joe O'Brien, Max Deegan, Charlie Butterworth.

Replacements: Richie Allen, Ntinga Mpiko, Josh O'Rourke, Matthew D'Arcy, Tom Kiersey.

Away Team

Manihera Eden; Chris Quinn, Robin Harte, Richard Reaney, Adam Craig; Sam Windsor, Aaron Cairns; Craig Trenier, Zack McCall, Jonny Simpson, Jonny Madden, John Donnan, David McGuigan, Paul Pritchard (capt), Conor Joyce.

Replacements: Jonny Blair, Andrew Harper, James Simpson, Blane McIlroy, Stuart Morrow.

Match Scorers

Home Team

Tries: Scott Deasy, Ian Fitzpatrick 2, James Ryan; Cons: Scott Deasy 3; Pen: Scott Deasy

Away Team

Tries: Adam Craig, Conor Joyce; Con: Chris Quinn; Pens: Chris Quinn 4