Banbridge Fourths 23
Cooke Thirds 27
This game was decided by a last-minute try from visitors Cooke after a see-saw battle in which Bann created enough chances to secure the win.
Certainly the home side dominated the opening 20 minutes with Cooke making only fleeting excursions out of their own half.
Cameron Cromie’s break in the 7th minute carved open the visitors’ defence and centre Andrew Sleator carried on the move. He then drew the full-back and fed his out-half with the return inside pass which put Cromie in under the posts, a drop kick from the same player adding the extras and Bann were up-and-running.
But Bann failed to build on the early momentum generated by a home pack which had out-rucked and out-powered the bigger Cooke eight. The visitors reduced the leeway with a 23rd minute penalty but when Cromie charged down an attempted clearance kick well inside the Cooke ‘22’ the scoring chance was frittered away.
A long punt downfield gave Cooke good field position and efficient re-cycling saw them create the overlap for a converted score and a 7-10 lead. Cromie’s penalty brought his team level but the visitors’ scrum-half showed a neat turn of speed to capitalise on a handling error and touch down under the posts on the stroke of half-time, the conversion opening up a seven point gap.
Two penalties from Cromie closed that to a single point before the visitors’ second penalty took the score to 16-20. With 10 minutes remaining Bann won a penalty just outside the Cooke ‘22’. Scrum-half was on the ball in a flash, tapped a quick one and raced clear of the bemused visitors for a try which Cromie did well to convert.
Both sides will have been disappointed with the number of penalties during the game. But the last offence committed by Bann proved decisive. It was directly in front of their posts, giving Cooke the option of the easy kick to settle for a draw or run the ball and go for the win. Admirably they opted for the latter and it proved a good decision, with their big lock forcing his way over the line.
Perhaps the draw would more accurately have reflected the exchanges between two sides whose enthusiasm was not always matched by their knowledge of the Laws of the Game. With 18 points to his credit Cromie was the start perfomer for the home side. Winger Elliot Fisher had looked threatening in possession until he was forced to retire in the first half with a dislocated finger. And up front Paul McNally led the way with several great carries while hooker and skipper Gareth Briggs was always at the heart of the action.