After 70 minutes of undistinguished rugby, during which both sides had struggled, mostly in vain, to cope with conditions created by the continuous and sometimes torrential rain, this game exploded into life in the last 10 minutes.
In those final plays of the match Rainey’s tenuous hold on their place in Division 2A was loosened further as they lost two players and conceded a late penalty try which gifted the game to Banbridge.
With nine places separating the sides in the table, the home side started as undoubted underdogs but if their confidence was initially lacking it received a boost after just two minutes play.
Aaron Kennedy’s attempted clearance kick from a lineout was charged down and Jimmy Lees was quickest to react as he hacked through and touched down near the right hand corner flag. Mark O’Connor’s attempted conversion from the narrowest of angles hit both posts before landing on the infield side of the uprights.
Jonny Pollock’s long flat kick forced Rainey to concede a lineout close to their “22” and after Bann had recycled three times Rainey were penalised in front of their posts and Kennedy stepped up to make the score 5-3.
Handling errors were the order of the day but as Rainey used the elements to keep Bann penned in their own half O’Connor was able to take advantage of further infringements to convert two more penalties for an 11-3 interval lead for his side.
The pattern of play was unchanged after the break as the rain continued to play havoc with both teams’ efforts to string together a number of phases. However it was Rainey’s turn now to ‘host’ the visitors as Bann began to spend time in opposition territory. Penalties by Kennedy from in front of the posts from ranges of 26 and 37 metres brought his team to within two points of Rainey with 54 minutes played.
Bann should have made more of a further period parked in and around the Rainey “22” but the home defence was proving the match of anything thrown at it. And when Rainey broke out, O’Connor kicked a 34 metre penalty to take his side 14-9 clear with 14 minutes left on the clock.
The loss of a prop to a yellow card on 70 minutes was obviously a blow for the home side. But when a second prop followed two minutes later, this time on receipt of a red card, it looked like the 13 men remaining might struggle to hold out. But they still managed to win another kickable penalty opportunity for O’Connor with three minutes left on the clock.
This time the full-back’s effort was wayward and Bann re-started with a “22” drop-out from which they managed to regain possession. When the ball was moved left from the ruck the handling for once proved sure and winger Adam Ervine put in a testing grubber which stopped a metre short of the try line.
Adam Doherty looked sure to win the race and when he was taken out without the ball the referee raced behind the posts to signal the penalty try that levelled the scores.
Even with the underfoot conditions now treacherous Kennedy was going to make no mistake with the simplest of conversions. And although there was time to re-start it was too late for Rainey to hit back, leaving Bann with a win that even their most faithful supporters would have felt looked beyond them for most of the game.
Bann coach Dan Soper was pleased with the way his side had coped with the conditions. “I thought we played some good wet weather rugby out there,” he said reflecting on the game.
“The error count was high but that was understandable given the conditions. That’s four AIL wins in a row for us since Christmas so we’re building up a nice momentum going into the final games of the season.”