Destination of title is in Thirds’ hands

Bann Thirds 50

Malone Thirds 7

WITH the sun shining and conditions perfect for running rugby, league leading Bann Thirds took on Malone Thirds at Rifle Park on Saturday past.

News that fellow top of the league contenders, Dungannon, had lost away to Ballymena last week had filtered through to Rifle Park and the winning of the league title is now in Bann’s own hands. If they win the rest of their games, they win the league, and gain promotion to Junior Section One.

Bann started the game brightly, put a lot of pressure on Malone from the start and were very soon awarded a penalty within kicking distance. With regular place kicker Mark Doherty unavailable, Shandon Scott stepped up to take the kick and was just wide. It wasn’t long, however, before Bann put their first points on the board.

The Bann backline moved the ball wide and Jordan Weir, hungry for the ball, came into the line and scorched in under the posts. The conversion missed the target but Bann were now 5-0 ahead.

Bann continued to attack and stepped up the pace from No 1 to 15. The pack set up a driving maul from a lineout deep in the Malone “22” and Ross Semple broke from the back and drove through the opposition to score Bann’s second unconverted try of the day.

Bann now took every opportunity to run with the ball and with half-backs Andy Cowan and Francois Viljoen providing some great service the backs cut through the oppostion at every chance.

The forwards supported these breaks and from just inside the Malone half, Johnny Weir took possession and ran the whole way to the line, throwing a number of his trademark dummies en-route to the posts. Scott found the mark with the conversion and Bann led 17-0.

With the young players throwing the ball around freely, Bann’s “Old Guard” weren’t going to be left out. As Bann’s sharp back row of Sam Boyd, Matthew Bird and Andrew Craig provided some more quality ball for the backline, Shandon Scott broke through into the Malone “22”. With the rest of the back line to his right, he flicked a deft inside pass to prop Gareth Jelly who powered over the line for a try any fullback would have been proud of! Scott added the extras and Bann led comfortably, 24-0.

With only a short time to go until half-time Bann took the foot off the pedal. Malone worked hard to take advantage of a mis-directed pass and score under the posts. Their try was duly converted and the halftime score was 24-7.

Bann re-grouped at halftime after a few strong words from coach Willie Kirkwood and captain Andy Craig and before long they were in the Malone “22” again. As Malone desperately tried to defend their line, Jelly ripped the ball out of the maul, and Johnny Harris, who worked tirelessly in the loose all day, forced his way over the line for Bann’s fifth try. Scott was now locked in on target and again added the two extra points for a 31-7 scoreline.

Malone had now lost a prop and the scrums were uncontested. This actually disadvantaged Bann who with Harris, Weir and Jelly in the front row, and Semple and Nathan Martin in the engine room, were giving Malone a lot of bother at the set piece.

After another lineout in the opposition 22, Bann set up a rolling maul. This time Semple took it off the back to bully his way over for his second try. Scott converted and Bann led 38-7.

It was now the backs turn to get in on the act. Centres Gary McKibben and Chris Berry, along with winger Pete Irvine created some great opportunities. However it was to be and Jordan Weir who combined to finish off this match. Firstly Scott exhibited great “soft hands” to pop the ball to Weir coming into the line at a great angle. Weir went through to score, although Scott was wide with the conversion, 43-7.

Then the players reversed roles, with Weir popping the ball to Scott coming into the line, the full-back then touching down and converting his own try.

This was a great all round team performance by Bann but it was the pack who once again provided the “Man of the Match”. Special mention should go to Johnny Harris, Sam Boyd, Ross Semple and Matthew Boyd for great loose play.

However it was Johnny Weir who took the accolade with his tireless work around the park and tremendous ball carrying.