FOR the second successive week Banbridge failed to register the win that would have sealed promotion to Division 2A of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League.
It was another frustrating day for Bann coach Daniel Soper. “The refereeing of the set scrum made it difficult for us,” he reflected. “But that was only one of a number of factors that saw us lose the game. Our ball retention was poor and we’ve work to do at our rucking.
“Wanderers are going to be a very difficult proposition in our last game. They’re a club with a very long and proud history – if we beat them they’ll lose their senior status. That was the threat that Sunday’s Well were under and we saw how they reacted, so we’re expecting a very tough game on Saturday week despite their league position.”
The single point defeat inflicted by Sunday’s Well leaves the Rifle Park side needing to beat Wanderers at home in their final scheduled game. Defeat would leave the door open for Barnhall, who will travel to Connemara on Saturday confident of getting the win that would allow them to capitalise on a further Bann slip-up.
Given their precarious position in the relegation zone Sunday’s Well were always going to prove difficult opponents. Their determination to do everything possible to retain their senior status was underlined by their willingness to fly home a couple of players who had been forced abroad to look for work.
The first half produced little in the way of constructive rugby, with the Bann threequarters only occasionally sparking into life. Up front Bann fell foul too often of the referee at the breakdown and the match official’s reading of the scrum negated the significant advantage the Bann eight seemed to have over the Well pack.
With the home coaching staff identifying the need for a change of front row personnel after 30 minutes play, it was no surprise when Bann won a penalty at a set scrum just four minutes later. Robin Thompson slotted home the kick from 37 metres range, but within four minutes Bann had lost tight-head prop Brian Hanna to the sin-bin. It was a decision which had the Bann players and supporters scratching their heads in bewilderment as Well out-half Shane O’Reardon levelled the scores with the penalty kick.
Jonny Weir came off the bench to fill the front row slot with Chris Allen having to take an enforced break. Dale Carson’s great take from the re-start won Thompson a second penalty chance but the kick was off-target.
In the first minute of the second half O’Reardon slotted home a neat drop goal. Richard Finlay took over at out-half from the injured Thompson and his kick to the corner set up a period of pressure which the home side did well to defend against.
As Bann continued to dominate, with Michael Cromie and Jonny Weir carrying to great effect, Finlay found Adam Ervine with a long pass. The winger’s path to the line seemed to be blocked but a darting run took him past the initial cover and he made the touchdown despite the close attention of a couple of defenders. Neville Farr struck a fine conversion to take Bann 6-10 ahead.
A Well penalty attempt from 38 metres fell short but with just 11 minutes remaining they re-gained the lead. The Bann threequarters were constructing a move on the opposition 10 metre line when full-back Ian O’Regan intercepted and sprinted the 60 metres to the try-line.
O’Reardon’s conversion was short and both he and Farr missed with a further penalty attempt apiece as the clock ran down. Two minutes injury time had been played when Bann won another penalty on the Well “22”. But for the second week running they failed to convert what would have been a match-winning penalty from the last act of the game, with Farr’s attempt drifting wide to the delight of the obvious delight of the home support.