BANBRIDGE’S drive for promotion was given further momentum by Saturday’s fourth successive bonus point win, with Sligo becoming the latest side to fall victim to the Rifle Park outfit.
If the scoreline was harsh on the battling Connacht team, promoted back into All-Ireland rugby at the end of last season after a 13-year absence, there was no questioning Bann’s right to maximum points as they made the most of their chances to run in five tries without reply.
Sligo owned the ball in the opening exchanges and their most dangerous runner, centre Mataele Fifita, gave early notice of his potential with a 50 metre run that left a trail of would-be tacklers in his wake. But he was eventually hauled down and subsequently marked closely to minimize his impact on the game.
Having weathered that initial attack, Bann took the initiative thanks to Ryan Patterson’s theft of the ball at a Sligo lineout in the 6th minute. Stephen Irvine and Michael Cromie were on hand to carry on the move and from the ruck that followed Brendan Ward sliced through the Sligo lines on a 25 metre run. When his delicate chip was mis-fielded winger Stephen Cowan gathered and dived over for the opening try.
Cromie and Patterson again did the spadework leading up to hooker David Weir’s close-range try in the 24th minute. And full-back Ward almost grabbed a third on the stroke of half-time after the purchase of Chris Allen’s dummy by the Sligo defence set the lock off on a 20 metre sprint to the posts.
Dan Hawkins was unable to take advantage of a rare scoring opportunity for the visitors when his 46th minute penalty dropped just under the cross-bar. Neville Farr converted a simpler chance at the other end to stretch his side’s lead to 13-0.
Bann’s third try, on the hour, was created by a powerful surge from man-of-the-match David Weir, with the hooker driving through a series of defenders like an exocet. He was hauled down just short of the line but No 8 Colin Bickerstaff was on hand to gather and dive over.
The home threequarters created a fine fourth try from 50 metres out with Adam Ervine taking advantage of some neat handling to make good ground down the right flank before finding Ward with the scoring pass.
That wrapped up the bonus point and Farr added the conversion before similarly adding the extras to a well-earned try by flanker Patterson, whose power and pace had punched holes in the Sligo defence all afternoon.
Yet again it was the home pack’s superior scrummaging and solid lineout work that provided the basis for what a workmanlike, clinical performance that left coach Daniel Soper reasonably if not totally satisfied. “We didn’t look after the ball particularly well, especially in the first half,” he said after the game.
“But we created a lot of chances, scored five tries and conceded none so that was pretty good. Our next two AIL games will define the season, with Connemara away and then Barnhall at home. But we hope to have Robin Thompson back in action this weekend against Dungannon in the Ulster League and Mark Wilson should be fit for Connemara.
“So we’re well placed in terms of squad strength and we’ll need them all as I expect those two games to be significantly harder than our last four.”