A fourth win in nine starts saw Banbridge retain their 8th place in Division 2A of the All-Ireland League.
Visitors Nenagh had started the day just two places and two points ahead of the home side but they looked much the stronger outfit as they dominated territorially for long spells in the first half.
That domination was not total however, as the Bann set scrum held sway from the outset and that was to prove crucial to the outcome.
Two early set pieces saw the put-in reversed in Bann’s favour and that gave out-half Jonny Pollock the opportunity to slice through the Nenagh lines only for a knock-on to see the movement break down just short of the posts.
But Nenagh were soon back on the front foot, forcing Bann to concede a penalty in front of their posts in the 14th minute. Scrum-half Eoin Gardiner took advantage of a slowly retreating defence to tap to himself and dive in under the posts, leaving Salave Missionare with the simple conversion task.
With the quality on both sides showing the effect of a prolonged lay-off, neither having seen match action since December, it was Nenagh who made the most of the opposition mistakes in the early exchanges as they kicked astutely to keep Bann penned in their own half. But there was no lacking in intensity or effort in Bann’s first-up tackling as they worked hard to prevent Nenagh building on that early score.
With just four minutes left before the break a superb line break by Bann centre Jonny Little carved open the Nenagh lines. Following a ruck under the visitors’ posts the referee awarded Bann a penalty and wielded the yellow card after centre Mark Doyle had followed through with a tackle after the whistle. That saw the Nenagh centre take a 10 minute break from the action but also resulted in the replacement of the injured Bann lock Chris Allen by Alan Conn.
Given their set piece superiority it was no surprise when Bann skipper Jonny Graham opted for a scrum and the pack duly obliged with a drive which left No 8 Stephen Irvine with the straightforward task of touching down. Aaron Kennedy’s conversion tied the interval tallies, hardly a reflection of the exchanges up to that point.
Kennedy inched his side into the lead with a 30 metre penalty in the opening minute of the second half and as his side began to enjoy the bigger share of possession he converted again from similar range just short of the hour. A rare excursion into home territory gave Missionare a penalty chance from 35 metres but the ball rebounded off an upright and after surviving a period of consequent pressure Bann were able to clear their lines.
With time running out Nenagh were trying to run the ball from deep but their handling let them down and Bann winger Adam Ervine hacked through on a loose ball deep inside the “22” and won the race to touch down for the try that sealed Bann’s win, with Kennedy again finding the target off the tee.
Prop Stuart Cromie produced a five-star shift as the cornerstone of the Bann scrum, with his round-the-field work-rate also impressing. And flanker Nico Vorster was the stand-out tackler in a home defence that stood up well under intense pressure, particularly in that first half.
Bann coach Daniel Soper was pleased to get the win after what he admitted was a somewhat rusty display by his squad. “That was a bit like an early-season performance out there, all a bit disjointed”, he said after the game.
“Although we displayed a lot of good intent we struggled to execute effectively and put ourselves under too much pressure in our own half. However we defended well which created the pressure for their errors and we were able to capitalise on those.
“Next up we have UCC away and that’s always a difficult game for us. We will need to be more accurate as they will not be afraid to run the ball on our mistakes.”