IN recent games Bann have suffered due to slow starts, with their heads still in the shed, whilst the opposition have started well, and as the big Enniskillen team headed up to the pitch it was imperative that Bann hit the field running in this key quarter-final game.
As it turned out their start was amongst the best of the whole season as the Enniskillen line was crossed in the 2nd minute by John Buller, converted by Tom Flanagan.
This early confidence boost got the whole team’s energy levels up with William Cousins and Troy Pinion adding further tries in the 6th and 11th minutes before the ‘Skins had even settled into their game plan.
Enniskillen had a solid scrum with a big back row and once they settled the game became attritional with Bann looking to spin the ball wide away from the big opposition forwards and Enniskillen relishing scrummaging and tight quarters play. Enniskillen finally got on the board with an unconverted try in the 19th minute but from the re-start the tight game resumed.
Rucking and counter-rucking was intense and ball carriers from both sides were guilty of losing the ball in contact with Charlie Wright and Daniel McBurney both notable for stripping the ball in tackle situations.
Even when the ‘Skins got the ball to the ground in the tackle they weren’t safe as Hayden Kerr stole the ball repeatedly by managing to keep his feet when fulfilling the role of the first man in. Turn-over ball provided McBurney with Bann’s fourth try to bring a half time score of 22-5.
When Charlie Wright crashed over the line in the first minute of the second half, with Tom Flanagan adding the conversion, it looked ominous for Enniskillen at 29-5.
Many youth teams would have crumbled at this stage, but the ‘Skins were made of sterner stuff and refused to capitulate. Basing their game on a strong scrum they held Bann in a tight second half contest in which little quarter was shown by either team.
Enniskillen repeatedly won scrums by ‘choke-tackling’ Bann players who couldn’t recycle the ball from the ensuing maul. Bann minimised the risk by avoiding scrums (even allowing Enniskillen to re-take a drop out that didn’t go 10 metres), but concentrated on picking off isolated Enniskillen ball carriers who didn’t protect the ball well enough. Enniskillen utilised their big centre to advance the ball well and were rewarded in the 19th minute with a converted try.
Bann responded in the 21st minute with a thrilling move from mid-field, advancing the ball by repeatedly passing out of contact, culminating with Jamie Mullan crashing over at the corner flag. The touch judge confirmed that Jamie hadn’t stepped into touch, but Tom Flanagan was left with a difficult conversion attempt from the touch line that was so far wide he had to take a flag down to address the ball. He didn’t quite manage to make the distance but the angle was spot on.
To their credit Enniskillen simply refused to meekly see out the final minutes and instead threw themselves forward with purpose.. Wave after wave of attackers surged to the Bann line resulting in repeated 5-metre attacking scrum awards, and after a particularly strong run by the No 8 was stopped inches short, a quick shift of attacking angle exploited the narrowness of the Bann defence and yielded a deserved converted try in the final play of the game.
So Enniskillen ‘won the second half’, but Bann’s shattering first ten minutes in the first half proved to be the telling period, putting the game beyond the ‘Skins. Bann now travel to Rainey for Saturday’s semi-final as they endeavour to retain the trophy won last season.