WITH three tries racked up in the opening half and a 20 point cushion to take into the second period against pointless City of Derry, Banbridge looked all set to harvest another five points from Saturday’s Ulster League fixture at Rifle Park.
But in a remarkable turnaround the visitors dominated the second half, running in five tries to a single Bann touchdown, with the last of those leaving the home side with a solitary bonus point for their four tries.
Flanker Dale Carson kick-started Bann’s first half, touching down in the 3rd minute after Stephen Irvine had made good ground down the left touchline.
A storming run from No 8 Jonny Graham left Derry struggling to defend their line and with Bann maintaining the pressure John Porter was denied a try when the last pass was adjudged to have been forward.
But the home side were not to be denied and some creative handling in the backs created the space for Andrew Morrison to run in from 30 metres for the second try, which like the first went unconverted.
The visitors’ cause was not helped by the yellow cards shown to out-half Richard McCarter and lock Bob McKillop, with Ian Porter slotting home the penalty kick from the first of those. McKillop was still “resting” on the sidelines when his Bann counterpart, Chris Allen, took advantage of Jonny Pollock’s neat line break to score at the posts, with Porter’s straightforward conversion moving the home tally on to 20 unanswered points.
Even when Derry got off the mark three minutes into the second half, with flanker Tom Patton’s try being converted by Peter Henderson, there seemed little chance of the visitors clawing back the deficit. Seven minutes later Allen broke clear from a lineout to take his side into the Derry “22” and Morrison again underlined his enormous promise as he fended off the attention of two defenders to cross for his second try.
That was the end of the scoring for the home side. Both teams began to make increasing use of their respective benches and a more experienced Derry front row saw the balance of scrummaging power swing decisively in their favour. Working off this better platform they notched up two tries in five minutes. Replacement Chris Barber scored under the posts and blindside flanker Stephen Corr took advantage of Bann’s untidy scrum ball as he pounced to effect the touchdown.
With Henderson’s unerring boot adding the conversions the visitors were now just four points in arrears and building up a seemingly unstoppable head of steam. Winger William McCleery marked his return from injury in style, coming off the bench to grab the try that would take his side into the lead, with Henderson adding the extras.
And to rub salt in the home wounds David Graham crossed in the opposite corner from the last move of the game to deny Bann the losing bonus point.
The sides cross swords again in just over five weeks, when All-Ireland League points will be at stake in the City of Culture. Both coaches will have learned something from Saturday’s exercise – it will just be a matter of which can apply those lessons most effectively.