ON Saturday, Rifle Park played host to Banbridge Seconds against Enniskillen in the Towns’ Cup Quarter Final.
Banbridge fielded a team much changed from that selected due to a number of players becoming unavailable, however a very capable and strong team took to the field and went on to play in an amazing cup game of high drama.
Bann received the ball from the kick off, and gained good ground into the visitors half. They were guilty of squandering a glorious chance in the opening exchanges when John Ferris burst through and found James Andrews. Andrews’s offload to Geoff Thompson gave the Captain the chance to pass either left or right, but he was unlucky to be smothered before releasing a team mate.
A missed penalty from Clarke McAllister a minute later did not deter a very determined Bann tean who eventually crossed the line after 13 minutes. This time patient passages of play by the forwards 10 metres out saw the ball reach centre Andrews, who unsurprisingly forced his way through the defence for the try which McAllister converted.
With the visitors unable to get out of their half, and the Bann forwards putting intense pressure on their counterparts, it was no surprise that Bann were awarded two penalty tries on the 20 and 25 minute marks, after the Skins scrum infringed. Although ultimately these were probably correctly awarded, even Banbridge were surprised at the young referee not giving Skins a third chance to prove themselves in each set-piece.
The penalty tries were separated by what seemed to be a certain score when John Porter intercepted a pass out wide. However his sprint for the line was curtailed by an unexpected leg injury which denied the try and forced his retirement from the game.
Although Bann’s defence was forcing Enniskillen laterally accross the pitch, an ultimately crucial score was gained when the Skins centre was allowed the time and space to burst through at speed for a converted try on the half time whistle. This one lapse in concentration gave Enniskillen a turnaround score of 21-7 that flattered them.
Bann knew Enniskillen would come out with renewed confidence, but were not prepared for the drama that would unfold. Enniskillen had spoken to the referee at great length to try and sort out their problems, especially at scrum time. This appeared to assist them as the penalty count at set piece was significantly reduced.
When Bann’s restart kick off went straight into touch, this was the beginning of a 15 minute period spent in their own ‘22 defending a fired up Enniskillen.
Indeed Bann’s constant defence held firm until a dubious refereeing decision. An Enniskillen knock on under Banbridge’s posts should have afforded the home side some respite and an opportunity to clear their lines. However the referee seemed content to play advantage from the mis-kicked clearance rather than blow for a scrum and the visitors to their credit scored directly on the counter attack.
The conversion was missed in controversial circmustances when the Bann winger was adjudged to have charged too early; and then took part, illegally, in charging down the second attempt. The Enniskillen coach was shown the red card for running onto the pitch at the referee to remonstrate.
With the scoreline now 21-12, a reaction was required from the home team to regain control, but in fact six minutes later the deficit was further reduced to 21-19 when a deserved converted try was executed after a good attack by the visitors.
With just under twenty minutes remaining, Bann still could not relieve their line, and although they were defending quite well, an inability to win turnover ball and gain field advantage put the final nail in the coffin.
With seven minutes remaining ‘Skins created an overlap which their winger amazingly dropped when approaching the line. Instead of this disheartening them, they went on the offensive once more.
When Bann were trying a clearance kick in their own goal area, the visitors were up brilliantly to charge down. Ferris was able to scramble a hand onto the ball as it stopped beside him; it bounced up when he grounded only for the referee to award the try for the secondary grounding by an Enniskillen player.
Credit to the Bann players at this stage for not getting involved in complaints as they stood in amazement at another disputable decision. One last Bann surge was not enough to rescue the game, leaving them defeated by 21-26.
For the neutral supporter, this was a true cup game - dominated totally by Banbridge in the first half - and likewise by Enniskillen in the second with a fantastic comeback.
However, for the home team the reality is that they blew their chance to progress to the semi final by not converting three seemingly certain tries and then conceding the needless try on the half time whistle. The second half performance suffered due to an inability to win turnover ball and play to the referee. However Enniskillen performed admirably in a fantastic come back when they built on the unexpected try before the break.