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Lansdowne FC v Ballynahinch RFC

Energia AIL Division 1 A

21 October 2023

Aviva Stadium Main Pitch

 

Lansdowne 45 – 19 Ballynahinch

 

They rained on our parade last season, beating us on the day of our 150th Anniversary Ball, but they weren’t given a chance to spoil another big occasion when Ballynahinch were thoroughly beaten by Lansdowne on the main pitch at Lansdowne Road.

The third game in the AIL season got off to a fiery start as you’d expect from two sides hoping to maintain their winning form. Lansdowne hoped for three in a row and Ballynahinch were eager to follow their win against Cork Con with another big scalp at HQ. And for the first ten minutes ‘Hinch looked like they might succeed.  They took off to a flying start winning the ball back from the kick out and playing the phases to force us to clear off our line and concede a lineout just outside the 22. In a sign of things to come, they executed their first of many excellent lineout mauls, coming perilously close to our line, only for clever and opportunist counter rucking from wing forward Barry Fitzpatrick to yield a turnover and penalty to the defending side.  But the relief was short-lived as the visitors stole the ensuing lineout and resumed their attack, our defense now scrambling to hold them back. A yellow card for a deliberate knock on added to our woes, but hold them back we did.  Indeed, when the ball was held up over the line, the scrum that followed seemed like a well-earned rest after a torrid opening five minutes.  Our scrum was more than solid, it was commanding, with props Ben Popplewell and Temi Lasisi looking in complete control, and the ball came sweetly for scrum half James Kenny to clear our lines.

But the ‘Hinch onslaught wasn’t quite finished. Now their backs showed they weren’t just there to cheer their forwards on, their out half and centres making line breaks and nearly getting fully through but for excellent, if frantic, covering tackles by our back rows.  Number 8 Harry Van Eeden was notable for the ground he covered in this period.  On the ten-minute mark, having withstood the force of the visitors’ complete arsenal, Lansdowne finally made their first foray into the Ballynahinch half and, deciding they liked it there, remained there for most of the rest of the day.

Calm hadn’t been completely restored and it was an opportunistic fly hack through by centre Andy Marks that gave us the territorial advantage to set up our first try.  A series of phases led to a ruck in the centre of the pitch and fly half Stephen Madigan took the quick ball from James Kenny.  Drifting slightly right, he opens up a gap inside him for left winger Hugo McLaughlin to power through. Hugo made 15 meters before getting tackled and following several efforts from close in forward runners Rory Parata dives over for our, and his first of three tries.  Stephen adds the extras and home fans breathe a sigh of relief at 7 – 0.

Our composure was starting to take full hold now and we resumed our attack straight from the kick off, hooker Tom Barry showing his mobility around the pitch with a strong break from the maul that was formed.  Several phases followed with Lansdowne showing a versatility of attacking moves that would prove decisive.  Sniping breaks off the back of the rucks from nine, James Kenny, wide passing out to winger Hugo McLaughlin, or short crash balls to, among others, charging second row Luke O’Connor, all kept the visitors on the back foot. Back to 15 men now and Ballynahinch down to 14 for their own yellow, our attack was starting to create holes in the ‘Hinch defence.  It was on the half hour mark that centre Rory Parata doubled his account with a try very similar to his first and almost in the same spot. 12 – 0

We kept up the pressure, and even if some of the open play yielded errors, it was great to watch. Our next score, like the first, came from a ruck in the middle of the pitch, this time with “Mads” Madigan going left and skying a long pass out to winger Sean Galvin. Sean powered down the line, drawing two players and centre Andy Marks had to go flat out to keep up with him … but it was worth it. Sean passed inside to Andy who swerved again inside, handing off a clambering ‘Hinch defender. He still had plenty of gas in the tank and he needed it to sprint the last 30 meters to score under the post.  Mads converted and it was 19 – 0.

We were rampant now, with many assaults on the visitors’ line and it was only through their knocking down of a hopeful grubber kick through that Ballynahinch regained possession and returned briefly to our half with an opportunistic try under the posts.  19 – 7 with five minutes to go in the first half.

We retained complete control in the remainder of the half, with Stephen Madigan showing his optimistic spirit yet again by opting to go for the points on the stroke of half time. It fell just wide, but showed how this side would try anything once!

After the orange segments had been passed around and play resumed, Lansdowne picked up the story exactly where we had left off: in control.  We held possession comfortably, in spite of ‘Hinch’s valiant efforts at a rush defence and when even the slightest of gaps presented themselves, we took them. One such gap appeared when the second half was less than five minutes old. Several phases again tied up the Ballynahinch defence inside their 10m line and that man Rory Parata camped out of sight on the touchline, so when Stephen sent a floating pass out to him he finished an excellent move diving over in the corner again (and giving rise to one of Michael O’Brien’s best photos of the season, so far – see above). Rory’s Dad, Robert had made the trip up from Cork to see him play and beaming from ear to ear in the clubhouse afterwards, said “It was well worth the trip!”

At 24 – 7, we didn’t let up on the pressure, but Ballynahinch, in fairness to them, started to bring some of their own.  From the restart after the last score, they managed to take up position inside our 22 and played their trump card, the lineout maul, over and over.  Our pack defended manfully, even holding up the maul to win a scrum on the 10m line, and winning a penalty from the scrum, as loose head Temi Lasiss showed great technique and toughness when it counted most.

But they kept at us and eventually their relentless lineout maul paid dividends, and they went over in the corner, their out half slotting over an excellent conversion from the touchline.  24 – 14 as we entered the last quarter.

But fear not, dear reader, we weren’t finished yet either.  As the play resumed we took up our preferred position in their half again, controlling the game running through the phases and tying up their defences in midfield, so, when the ball came out to Rory Parata on the touchline, there was space behind the defenders. His fellow centre, Andy Marks was on his inside and helpfully pointed to Rory, showing him the exact patch of grass that he wanted the chip through on. Rory obliged – to the centimeter – and Andy gathered the ball and gratefully touched down for his second of the day. Two centres, and five tries between them. Not bad.  31 – 14.

‘Ballynahinch may have realized they weren’t going to inflict another defeat like last year on us, but they weren’t going down without a fight either and they came back and back again at us in the last 15 minutes.  With all their effort, they inevitably left gaps and unfortunately for them, tighthead prop Ben Popplewell happened to be right in the middle of one of those gaps when the ‘Hinch centre threw a wild and hopeful pass. Ben intercepted and ran the full 10 meters required of a man of his stature, before offloading to James Kenny who finished the counter attack under the posts. 38 – 14

Playing for pride now, Ballynahinch went back to their tried and tested formula and scored from a lineout maul soon after the restart. 38 – 19.  And their competitive spirit showed in the last five minutes as they scrambled now for a losing bonus point. But that solitary man standing in the Lansdowne Road end of the stadium, coach Declan Fassbender, was having none of that.  “WE SCORE LAST!” he bellowed from Row D, Seat 33. And the lads must have heard him as they resumed their command of the ball. Well into injury time now, our relentless assault on the Ballynahinch line gave up its fruit, with sub wing forward George Kenny going over for our seventh and final try, with Tom Gavigan (making his home AIL debut) finishing a great day’s work with our fifth conversion of the day.

Full time Lansdowne 45 – 19 Ballynahinch.  A great performance worthy of a great pitch.

 

Match Report – Brian Whelan

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