RORY Best enjoyed his first game of the season when he turned out in Bann colours for his home club’s All-Ireland League game against Barnhall.
The Ireland hooker, who underwent major surgery during the summer, played just under an hour of the game which Bann won to move into fourth place in Division Three. And afterwards Best said he was pleased with the way it had gone.
“It was great to get some game time after a long lay-off,” he commented. “There were a lot of scrums in the match, which was a good test for me, and they went well. And it was great to play a part in helping Bann take another step up the table.”
This was a relatively comfortable win for the Rifle Park side, but they know only too well that it should have been a five pointer, after they had racked up three tries without reply in the first half.
Barnhall came back strongly after the break and were good value for the last minute try which saw them avoid a whitewash, but after the first half display the Bann supporters had every right to expect a winning bonus point.
Bann showed a couple of changes from the team that won narrowly at Sunday’s Well. With Stephen Cowan picking up a knock, Alan Gibson played his first game of the season on the right wing. And coach Andre Bester decided to switch half backs Neville Farr and Adam Ervine, with the latter starting this game at out-half.
There were just three minutes on the clock when Bann picked up their first try. Dale Black followed up Ashley Finlay’s kick ahead to hack the ball close to the Barnhall line. Simon McKinstry did well to get up and charge down the attempted clearance kick and when the ball went loose in the in-goal area the skipper was first to it to claim the touchdown.
Although they had much the better of the exchanges for the remainder of the first half Bann had to wait until the 36th minute to claim a second try, at a time when a yellow card had reduced the visitors to 14 men.
Centre Jonny Little set up a ruck after clean lineout ball had been secured. When the ball came back to Ervine just outside the visitors’ 10-metre line, he dummied to pass inside before stepping between two defenders, rounding the oncoming full back and out-pacing the cover for a fine individual score.
Bann’s third try came on the stroke of half-time. Best took a return pass from McKinstry at a lineout on the Barnhall 22 before being stopped just seven metres out. The Bann forwards recycled through several rucks, with Best feeding Colin Bickerstaff from the last. The prop found Little who did well to get his pass away to Ervine and the No 10’s long pass to Jordan Weir saw the winger show great determination in scoring his first ever AIL try.
After his two earlier failed conversion attempts Farr found the mark with the most difficult of all to open up a 17 point gap between the sides.
It seemed just a matter of time before Bann would claim that fourth try, but they rarely threatened the Barnhall line after the break, with a number of five-metre scrums failing to yield any return.
Conversely Barnhall seemed to grow in confidence as the fog descended and after they had pressed repeatedly in the closing stages, No 8 Barry Dunne eventually forced his way over the try line, the missed conversion attempt being the last act of the game.
This weekend Bann travel to Connemara, always a difficult place to pick up points. The Clifden-based side’s lowly league position might suggest a win for the in-form Bann is a foregone conclusion. But Connemara’s win on Saturday at Portadown will have fore-warned Bester’s men that they can take nothing for granted. Certainly a winning bonus point will not be featuring in their thoughts as they travel west.