Banbridge’s five game unbeaten run brought to an end by title challengers

Banbridge are still top of the table but Naas have closed the gap to just two points. INBL1603-242PB
Banbridge are still top of the table but Naas have closed the gap to just two points. INBL1603-242PB

Banbridge RFC coach Daniel Soper says his side let Naas off the hook as their winning run came to a halt on Saturday.

The Bann lads went down 16-5 after a below par performance and Soper had no qualms with the result.

“We were beaten by a better team,” he said.

“Take nothing away from them, they deserved the win but we just didn’t get up to the standards that we need to get to.

“We didn’t play particularly well,” he said. “We kicked poorly, tackled high and the penalty count went heavily against us. At home against Naas we tackled low. This time for some reason we kept going in high and paid the price.

“In the second half we’d build up momentum and then lose the ball through an overthrow or crooked lineout or miss a shot at goal – we just kept letting them off the hook.”

The results livens up the All Ireland League Division 2A title race, with Bann now just two points ahead of Naas and three clear of UCC.

With the Co Kildare side hot on their tails, Bann knew they were in for a tough game.

And so it proved, although in the final analysis, the teams scored one try apiece, with the boot of home scrum-half Peter Osborne making up the 11 points differential.

With so much at stake, it was perhaps not surprising that aggressive defending from both teams forced a series of knock-ons in the opening quarter of the game. A brave tackle by Lee Steenson stopped Paul Tolofua in his tracks when the Naas No8 was at full speed, but Bann conceded a penalty at the next breakdown and Osborne slotted over the first of three penalties.

Mike Bentley’s run down the left flank took play into the home 22 but Bann were unable to capitalise on the good field position and Naas cleared the danger.

With Steenson forced to retire from the action in the 33rd minute, at the next scrum the ball squirted out on the visitors’ 22 and Naas’ scrum-half Osborne was quickest to react, picking up, weaving and dodging his way under the posts before adding the conversion.

Bann had opportunities from two five metre lineouts late in the first half but the Naas defence held firm for a 10-0 interval lead.

Adam Doherty’s two shots at goal soon after the restart failed to find the target and when Bann failed to find touch from a penalty inside their own half, Naas ran the ball back to win another penalty which Osborne landed to put 13 points between the sides.

With five minutes left, Doherty ran ball back after fielding on halfway. He was halted temporarily but regained his footing to set up ruck ball inside the Naas 22. Two phases later and the ball was moved through the hands to Peter Cromie who made good ground before drawing the last defender to put Andrew Morrison in at the corner.

The failed conversion attempt left Bann needing a score of some description to salvage at least a losing bonus point. A penalty would have done but when the re-start was knocked on, it was Naas who won the penalty at the other end which Osborne converted, effectively putting an end to Bann’s hopes.

It was the first game of the season which Bann had come away from pointless, but Soper had no concerns about any negative impact that might have on his squad’s confidence.

“The good thing is that we have the chance to get straight back into action and don’t have to dwell on it,” he said.

“We’re still top so it’s still in our own hands. That’s the way we want to keep it.”