ALL IRELAND RUGBY: Banbridge claim bragging rights with Ballynahinch and throw title race wide open

Banbridge's ''James Hume
Banbridge's ''James Hume

Billed by the host club as the ‘biggest local derby in Ireland this week’, this battle between the two leading clubs in Ulster lived up to expectations.

In the end Banbridge prevailed and, given the 4-1 try count in their favour, there could be no disputing the result.

The first quarter of the game saw ‘Hinch build up a nine point lead as the Rifle Park side conceded four penalties with ‘Hinch kicker Richard Reaney successful with three.

Worse was to follow in the 33rd minute when ‘the home side gathered a knock-on and the counter-attack saw Reaney finish off in the left hand corner. The conversion missed but ‘Hinch looked to be on their way to avenging the October defeat they suffered in Banbridge.

But as Bann began to work their way into the game, prop Michael Cromie set up a ruck. Andrew Morrison’s thrust took two defenders out and his off-load put new centre partner James Hume in at the posts, with Adam Doherty’s conversion halving the points differential at the interval.

A moment of rashness near the end of the first half deprived Bann of the services of lock Chris Allen for 10 minutes but they still made the early running after the break as Michael Cromie found Adam Ervine with a floated pass and the skipper scorched over in the corner to narrow the gap to two.

Adam Doherty then put Bann in a strong attacking position and, when the ball was moved left, Ervine was in space to dot down under the posts with Doherty’s conversion taking his side 14-19 in front with 53 minutes played.

Reaney had a golden chance to narrow the gap but his failure off the tee and Doherty’s subsequent success at the other end gave Bann a two score lead on the hour.

When a penalty award gave Bann a line-out on the ‘Hinch ‘22’ with four minutes left, Caleb Montgomery caught cleanly at the tail. The maul was driven forward and flanker Nick Hayes peeled off to secure the bonus point with Doherty adding the extras.

The delight of the Bann players and supporters was obvious and coach Daniel Soper made no attempt to hide his feelings after the game.

“We’ve won two very tight games with ‘Hinch this year and we’re very proud of that,” he said, “This season is the first we’ve beaten ‘Hinch in the AIL and we’ve done it twice now. And it’s the first time we’ve beaten them on their own patch since we went senior 20 years ago.

“The players put in a lot of hard work for this game but in the first 15 minutes I thought they were just over-excited.

“In the last couple of games our discipline has been excellent. Last week we gave away five penalties in the whole game. Today we conceded four in 15 minutes but we were so determined to put a marker down and we just put ourselves under pressure.

“Once we got a bit of clarity of thought we looked quite comfortable. We had to be good defensively and we were. We’ve put a real focus on our defence this season and the guys had a huge amount of confidence and trust in each other.

“Once we got through that first 20 minutes, we looked in control and the players knew there was no need to panic.”

Soper highlighted the performances of a couple of the younger players, including scrum-half Jason

Gribbon.

“Jason is at University and hasn’t done a lot of training with us or played many games. He was dropped into the hot seat today and I thought he did exceptionally well.”

Centre James Hume, who had signed for Bann last summer after leaving RBAI, was playing his first game since last April because of injury.

“James is a real talent who hopefully is going to go on to bigger and better things but as long as he’s with us I hope he can go on performing the way he did today. He and Andrew Morrison complemented each other very nicely.

“Jonny Little is playing out of position at out-half but he did very well also.”

The Bann coach readily acknowledged the pre-eminence over recent seasons of a club he used to play for and coach.

“Hinch have been the leading team in Ulster for the last number of years. They’re the yardstick. This was a fixture we’d identified as one to prove we were good enough to play in this league and we’ve done that in both games.”

With four games left, Bann remain third in Division 1B but thanks to Saturday’s result and Limerick Bohs’ defeat of Shannon, the Rifle Park side are now level on points with Shannon and just one point behind Ballynahinch.