The Energia-sponsored All Ireland League kicked off its thirty-second season last Saturday on the back pitch of the Avia Stadium with a fine festival of entertaining rugby served up by Lansdowne FC and our Ulster visitors, Ballynahinch RFC.
The match was also a precursor to Lansdowne’s much-heralded Sesquicentennial Ball in the Clayton Hotel which attracted just short of a thousand attendees who partied on into the wee hours in celebration of the historical landmark occasion.
Unfortunately, on the day the Ulstermen turned party-poopers, recording a narrow but deserved victory against a Lansdowne side that played well – but only in patches. Nonetheless, the result represented a considerable turn-around for the Co. Down club, who lost 47-17 in the corresponding fixture last January.
While the try count was 5-4 in the host’s favour, the accurate boot of ‘Hinch out half and Man of the Match Greg Hutley – he landed 6 from 7 – saw his side home with a well-struck penalty from 15 metres in on the ’22. This effort after 72 minutes sealed a famous victory for the Northerners.
Lansdowne opened brightly and were on the attack early. A turned-over line out saw out half Tector make a dart towards the visitor’s line and a third minute penalty resulted in a five-metre lineout. The Lansdowne maul surged forward and drove hooker Luke Thompson over the line. Tector was unable to add the extras but Lansdowne were off and running.
Hutley reduced the margin with an excellent penalty from 45 metres, but Lansdowne again went on the offensive down the left. This resulted in second row Dan Murphy taking a good line and breaching the Ballynahinch defence. Tector added the extras and the home side were looking good at 12-3 up after 16 minutes play.
The visitors remained unphased, however, and a penalty set up a strong attacking position on the left. Several pick and goes resulted before centre Mark Best took a neat line to cross for a neatly-taken try under the posts.
Hutley again obliged with the convert, and suddenly Lansdowne’s lead was reduced to two points – 12-10, in the 23rd minute.
A further home sally into the opposition’s ’22 was foiled by a knock on, but a quickly taken tap penalty by centre Mark Roche set up a scoring opportunity gratefully seized upon by Peter Sullivan.
The winger strong hand off and pass to blind side Clive Ross saw the acting captain switch the ball inside to supporting scrum half Jack Matthews who cruised over for an excellent try on 24 minutes. Tector made no mistake from the tee and the home side were 19-10 up and looking good.
A crucial match moment followed; full back Michael Silvester, who was looking dangerous on several intrusions into the line, for once threw an errant pass which was gleefully snapped up by ‘Hinch left winger Fergus Jemphey.
The Ireland 7’s player raced away for a score against the run of play; only moments earlier a mazey run by Silvester almost saw the full back in for what would have been a great individual try and an early bonus point. Instead, the Ballynahinch men saw themselves back within two points following Hutley’s excellent touchline convert off the right-hand post.
This set back seemed to unsettle the home side and worse was yet to come before the break; a neat flip from Hutley to George Pringle saw the centre’s well-angled run pierce a somewhat porous Lansdowne defence and cross for a try again goaled by Hutley. Suddenly, the Northerners had their tails up and went into the break with a 24 -19 lead.
If Lansdowne had ended the first half badly, their start to the second period was even worse. Pringle swept up the left and, fending off a weak tackle, accelerated away for a soft seven pointer. Ballynahinch 31, Lansdowne 19.
To their credit, the Lansdowne forwards rallied and began to take the game to the visitors. Mistakes at critical moments hampered their efforts, however, and inhibited the build-up of all important momentum.
Prop Temi Lasisi and second row Conor McMenamin came on and beefed up the scrum; suddenly the visitors were struggling in the tight. A neat cut by Silvester down the left saw the pacey full back release left winger Sean Galvin who just made it to the left corner for a bonus point try. 31 -24 on the hour.
Lansdowne returned to the attack and the Ballynahinch defence was being asked a series of hard questions. They were driven straight backwards by the Lansdowne scrum, only for the Headquarters side to be penalised for not scrummaging squarely, to the amazed delight of the ‘Hinch supporters and the incredulity of Lansdowne’s.
The same happened during our last match against Ballynahinch last January, I recall. As I wrote then, I await a referee’s explanation as to why a dominant scrum would need to infringe when the opposition are going backwards.
The home side rallied again and launched a series of attacks. Pick and go rugby followed as Lansdowne bombarded the Ulstermen’s line. Eventually, No. 8 Donough Lawlor twisted and plunged over for a hard-earned try which brought his side within 2 points.
The conversion was struck cleanly by replacement scrum half Jack Connolly and suddenly the sides were level at 31-all.
Unfortunately, Lansdowne made a mess of the restart and conceded possession. Hinch moved the ball right and won a penalty 15 metres in on our ’22. Up stepped Huntley to once again punish Lansdowne and put his side 34 – 31 ahead.
There was still time for Lansdowne to launch a further series of attacks, however. A turn-over lineout on our ’22 became a penalty on half-way which evolved into an attacking line out 25 metres from the visitor’s line.
The home side’s growing momentum was then halted as the referee penalised Lansdowne for sealing off the line out catcher. This proved to be the last hurrah for Lansdowne and the visitors’ joy at their 5 League points to 2 outcome was unconfined.
Match Report: Michael Daly
Match Details: ENERGIA MEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE, Round 1, DIVISION 1A
HT: Lansdowne 19 Ballynahinch 24
LANSDOWNE: Michael Silvester; Peter Sullivan, Mark Roche, Kyle Dixon, Sean Galvin; Charlie Tector, Jack Matthews; Frank Kavanagh, Luke Thompson, Ben Popplewell, Dan Murphy, Ruairi Clarke, Clive Ross (capt), Joey Szpara, Donough Lawlor.
Replacements: Tom Barry, Temi Lasisi, Conor McMenamin, Liam Forster, Jack Connolly, Stephen Madigan.
BALLYNAHINCH: Rory Burke; Aaron Cairns, George Pringle, Mark Best, Fergus Jemphrey; Greg Hutley, Conor McKee; George Saunderson, Claytan Milligan, Kyle McCall, James Simpson, Thomas Donnan (capt), Zack McCall, Bradley Luney, Jamie Macartney.
Replacements: John Dickson, Conor Piper, Matthew Connolly, Tom Martin, Ethan Graham, Conor McAuley.
Referee: Eddie Hogan O’Connell