DESPITE this third successive defeat Banbridge won promotion to Division 2A of the Ulster Bank League on the back of results elsewhere.
And with supreme irony their conquerors on Saturday were condemned to relegation to the junior ranks as a result of Ards’ win at Navan.
Wanderers’ relegation was a bitter blow for one of the oldest clubs in Irish rugby. A very poor run of results in the first half of the season just left them with too much to do. A change in team management at Christmas, which encouraged the return to action of a number of key players, saw their form improve dramatically. A fortnight ago League winners Cashel only managed to beat them with a score from the last play of the game, so Bann were anticipating a tough battle for the win they needed to ensure promotion.
With the wind at their backs Bann enjoyed the early pressure but they failed to capitalise on a couple of breaks from centre James Andrews. And when they opted for the scrum five metres out after Wanderers winger Paddy Brophy had been yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on, the put-in was reversed when Wanderers wheeled, allowing the defence to clear.
As Bann continued to ask the questions, centre Andrew Morrison just lost out in the race to ground Robin Thompson’s delicate chip behind the Wanderers try line.
A half break from Morrison in the 23rd minute won Bann a second five metre scrum. This time the drive was straight and No 8 Stephen Irvine touched down for the opening try, bettered by out-half Thompson.
Three minutes later Michael Boland pulled back three points with a penalty kick after Bann’s Brian Hanna had been yellow-carded for preventing release of the ball and before the half hour Wanderers had taken the lead. Their back row combined in a move initiated in their own half to send No 8 Paddy Mallon in for a try, with Boland’s conversion taking the score to 7-10.
After Andrews had again broken through the visitors’ defence, Thompson’s feed almost put Simon McKinstry in for Bann’s second try, but the Wanderers defence held firm until the interval.
After withstanding early pressure in the second half, good ball retention allowed Bann to dominate the proceedings for a spell, but indiscipline and handling errors negated all the good work. Wanderers then struck with two tries in three minutes around the hour. Out-half Boland was allowed to dance in from the “22” to touch down under the posts, his conversion a formality, and flanker Ruairi Geoghan rounded off after the Bann defence fragmented under pressure.
Bann saved their best rugby until the final ten minutes. Tries from Jonny Pollock, off Brendan Ward’s break, and Mark Wilson, after a hack ahead of a loose ball, both converted by Thompson, set up a thrilling finale. But despite good work from Adam Ervine, now operating at scrum-half, and replacement centre Jonny Little, Bann were unable to engineer the score that would have allowed them to move up a Division in style.
That didn’t appear to particularly annoy the home players or supporters as the results filtered through from Connemara and Cashel and the celebrations began.