It’s one down, two to go for Banbridge Rugby Club.
Their U15s won the U15 Ulster Bowl on Saturday after a convincing 15-0 victory over Ballynahinch and set up the club’s three weeks of finals in perfect fashion.
This was a fitting finale to the season for a team which has shown steady improvement throughout, under the tutelage of coaches John Shannon, John Mullan and Matthew Irvine.
A three-try win over Newry had seen Bann deservedly take their place in the final and they reprised that semi-final display with a fine team effort in which they displayed the impressive handling and rucking skills developed over the season.
The 4G pitch at Cookstown lent itself to enterprising rugby and that’s what both sides aspired to throughout the game, with the slicker Bann threequarters ultimately proving the difference between the teams.
Both sides had scoring opportunities in the first half, but it was Bann who proved the more clinical finishers. Fifteen minutes in, the backs’ smooth handling gave Ben McArdle space on the right flank. The winger still had work to do as the cover closed but he found a gap to force his way over the line at the corner for an unconverted try.
Just before the interval, Bann won a penalty opportunity close to the Hinch posts. Spurning the easy three-pointer in favour of a tap penalty looked to have been the wrong decision when they were in turn penalised at the next ruck. But when Hinch failed to clear from the kick, Bann ran the ball back at them and Jordan Wilson scorched in at the corner to double his side’s tally.
That score proved crucial as Bann started the second half with renewed confidence. Half-backs Jamie Mullan and MOTM John Buller made great use of the ample possession provided by a hard-working pack, under the influential leadership of flanker Alister McDowell.
With Jack Myles and William Cousin shackling the previously dangerous Hinch back row, Bann were able to limit the opposition’s scoring opportunities to a minimum.
In the middle of the field, the attacking flair of Charlie Jones was complemented by the crushing tackling of Haydn Kerr and Adam Buller at full-back provided assurance under the high ball as well as a refreshing willingness to counter-attack.
That confidence with ball in hand was evident in Bann’s play throughout. A more conservative supporter might have frowned on their penchant for attacking from inside their own 22 but one such move almost produced a try when replacement winger Jordan McKibbin was hauled down two metres from the Hinch posts after a blistering 65 metre run.
Buller’s leadership of his back line and tackling ability were key to his team’s success and it was fitting that he should score the try that put the game out of Hinch’s reach. From a penalty just outside the Hinch 22 Mullan popped the ball to his partner. Buller dummied to open up a gap before sprinting through to the try line, leaving the opposition needing three scores to retrieve the situation.
That proved an impossible task against a Bann team which continued to tackle ferociously through to the final whistle.
BANBRIDGE: Adam Buller, Ben McArdle, Haydn Kerr, Charlie Jones, Jordan Wilson, John Buller, Jamie Mullan, Cormac Murray, Aaron Duggan, Andrew Jardine, Jonny Murray, Matthew Neill, Alister McDowell (Capt), William Cousins, Jack Myles. Replacements: Ben Smith, Dan McBurney, Jordan McKibbin.