WHEN Banbridge sailed into a 17-3 lead after just 15 minutes of play, the home supporters must have been looking forward to a bonus point win and, depending on results elsewhere, a night of celebrating promotion.
In the event a talented Barnhall side hauled themselves back into the game with two fine tries, both of which owed much to the superior pace of their threequarters, allowing them to draw level by the break.
And with both sides squandering scoring opportunities, the only points added after the interval were Bann’s early second half penalty and Barnhall’s unconverted try ten minutes from the end, giving the visitors the win they needed to stay in contention for a place in Division 2A next season.
Andrew Morrison’s break set up the penalty opportunity which allowed Robin Thompson to kick his side into a second minute 3-0 lead. That was neutralised five minutes later by Simon Gillespie’s effort at the other end but the Barnhall out-half should have doubled his side’s tally two minutes later, inexplicably missing with the simplest of kicks.
Then in a three minute blitz Bann scored two converted tries to open up a significant gap between the sides. Brendan Ward was involved twice in the move that started in Bann’s own half and ended with Thompson touching down under the posts.
Then the full-back finished off a sweeping move, again initiated in home territory, that saw several players handle before Ward took a return pass from Jonny Pollock to cross the line. Thompson was on-target with both conversions and Bann looked set for a comfortable win.
But the Kildare side was not about to lie down in front of the many supporters who had travelled north. There may have been a hint of obstruction about their first try, scored by left wing Rob McGrath, but Bann continued to give their backs too much latitude and scrum-half Rob Holt was able to take advantage for a second touchdown. Gillespie’s conversions tied the scores with 31 minutes played.
Bann came back strongly before the interval but failed to take advantage of strong field position and a couple of penalty chances in striking range of the posts.
Thompson’s 46 metre penalty six minutes into the second half edged his side in front again but as two well-matched teams slugged it out in what was largely a middle third battle for supremacy, it was clear that the next score would be crucial. With Bann on the offensive Barnhall retrieved the ball and right winger Adam Hughes finished off a 70 metre counter-attacking move, touching down in the corner for what proved the winning score.
Not that it was the end of the excitement. Morrison intercepted on his own “22” and raced 65 metres before being hauled down by a chasing defender. Then Thompson’s drop goal attempt missed the target and finally, with the last act of the game, the Bann out-half had the chance, from long range, to win the game. But his effort fell just short, leaving Bann to reflect on a performance in which, to use the words of Director of Rugby John Best, “they didn’t play wisely”.