BANBRIDGE turned on the style in Saturday’s Ulster Senior League game against Ards, racking up six tries with a display of fluent, controlled rugby to which the home side had no answer.
At least that’s the way the first half turned out.
And when Bann changed ends 38-3 to the good, it looked as if the North Down side were in for a real tanking.
But the visitors produced a second half performance which was as bad as the first half had been good, with four tries conceded to an Ards outfit which had looked down and out.
It was a turnaround that had the Bann coaches and supporters scratching their heads in bewilderment. True they had lost two of their more influential players before the interval, with full-back Gregg Taylor and scrum-half Ian Porter having to retire having shipped knocks.
Taylor had not only gone in for the opening try after just five minutes but had also been involved in two of the other touchdowns, while Porter had shown the form that saw him involved for a number of seasons with the Ulster squad, as well as slotting over four conversions from six attempts.
But that doesn’t explain a second half in which they failed to add a single point to their tally after dominating so completely before the break.
Perhaps there was a degree of complacency, perhaps the tackles lacked determination and certainly the penalty count rose notably, denying Bann the sort of possession and control that they had enjoyed in that opening 40 minutes.
Whatever the reason, Ards’ spirits got a lift from Rob McCausland’s try in the 46th minute after Bann had been under the cosh. Andrew Morrison’s break took Bann into the Ards half in the 52nd minute but when possession was lost the Ards counter-attack ended with Scott Young diving over for the second try.
Ards flanker David Graham took a free catch at a lineout and was unimpeded on his eight metre jaunt to the try line, with Paul Cox adding the conversion on the hour.
And with the last move of the game lock John Dowey found an unnerving gap opening up the Bann defence as he galloped under the posts, Cox’s conversion completing the scoring.
Bann still recorded their first win of the season, but it was a success tainted by that second half capitulation. It had all looked so good up to the interval as the try tally mounted steadily against an Ards side who seemed to have no answer to Bann’s powerhouse pack and fluent backline.
After a Cox penalty in the 10th minute Bann resumed on the attack and skipper Simon McKinstry crossed for the second try after Ryan Patterson and Jonny Graham had put severe dents in the Ards rearguard.
A yellow card had placed further strain on the Ards lines and after James Andrews had made the initial breakthrough, prop Michael Cromie dummied to pass before touching down at the posts.
Taylor intercepted in his own half and set off on a 45 metre run before off-loading to John Porter, with the right winger simplifying his brother’s conversion by touching down near the uprights.
Jonny Pollock made the initial run for the fifth try, linking with Taylor who gave the scoring pass to Cromie.
And the Ulster Ravens prop capped a fine personal first half display when he made the break before finding Ian Porter, with the hard-working Graham taking the final pass before touching down.
When Mark Wilson burst through it looked as if a seventh try was on the cards but Ards re-grouped to snuff out the attack before the interval, before producing that second half revival against the odds to give them hope for the AIL programme ahead.
This Saturday Bann travel to take on Armagh, their final Ulster League game before the All-Ireland campaign starts at Greystones. The Cathedral City side are likely to provide much stiffer opposition for the entire 80 minutes, but if Bann are to travel to Co Wicklow with any degree of confidence they must pick up a second win.