28 January 2017
In this quarter-final of the 2nd XV Plate the Enniskillen side were confronted by an older, bigger and more powerful Armagh team on their home ground. Yes, there were factors such as the bus journey, a whistle happy referee and an away draw but, all in all, Armagh were the stronger team, though not by very much.
The first twenty minutes were a bit of a nightmare for the visitors who were slow to settle into their game, slow off the line and slow, according to the referee, to take their hands off the ball in the ruck. Armagh took full advantage of the space they were given and the gains they were offered from penalties. From a solid ruck in the middle of the park they chipped behind the visitor’s backs and, with a quick follow up, forced the full back, Craig Johnston, into giving away a penalty. From the ensuing line-out they caught and drove over for the opening score with just 2 minutes on the clock.
Armagh kept the ball in hand, driving down field through their substantial pack and from an Enniskillen fumble on the 5m line they dived over for their second try. The home side kept the pressure on with good handling and good support play that brought them just reward with another try through their dynamic hooker. They were less entitled to their next score. The referee, despite having her back to the defending Enniskillen players, adjudged those players to be off side and from a quickly taken tapped penalty Armagh forced their way under the posts. The visitors were fifteen minutes into the match and were already 22-0 down.
Further problems arose for the ERGS side when the referee yellow carded David Patton for hands in the ruck and they were obliged to play out most of the remainder of the first half with only 14 men. Despite this they managed to compete with much more intensity during this period and for the first time Armagh found themselves on their own try line where they were obliged to resort to clearance kicks to touch. Notwithstanding gallant drives by forwards Ally Jones, Kyle Holder and Jack Coalter, Enniskillen failed to capitalise on their possession and it was Armagh who scored the final points of the half through a break on the wing to lead by 27 points to nil.
The second half opened with a good break by ERGS number 8, John Allan, a sign that the visitors were determined, finally, to compete on equal terms. The slight change in the dynamics also allowed their back line to put pressure on their opposite numbers and Armagh began to spill the ball. Out-half, Alex Holder along with centres Curtis Coalter and James Balfour were particularly effective. Unfortunately, Holder had to be taken off a short way into the half with concussion and was replaced by Mark Crawford. Crawford directed a few excellent kicks deep into the opposing half to keep the visitor’s moving forward where John Fitzpatrick, Sam Frazer and Chris Balfour made good inroads into Armagh territory.
This was Enniskillen’s best period and watching the strong running and solid carries it was difficult to believe that this was the same team that conceded so many points in the opening quarter. The resurgence could easily have stalled when Jordan Thompson, who had had an influential game at hooker, had to retire due to injury. He was quickly followed by Crawford who suffered painful knee damage. However, the fresh legs of John Fitzpatrick, Jack Kennedy, Cormac Boylan and the returning Alex Armstrong kept the home team on the back foot.
Finally, after a succession of very near misses, Enniskillen scored through Kyle Holder when quick hands gave him an opportunity that he was never going to squander. He crashed across the line for the visitors only try which Johnston converted to leave the score at 27-7.
Unfortunately, injuries and fatigue on the part of Enniskillen in the last few minutes of the game led to two more tries from the visitors and a deceptive score line. Armagh capitalised on a charged down kick and a rare missed tackle to finish the game winners by 41 points to 7.
The second half display allowed Enniskillen to claim a degree of respectability. There were a number of good individual performances including brave defence by wingers Finbar McCann and Jack Deane. Matthew McConkey also deserves special mention . He harried the opposition scrum half and used the tap penalty to great effect.
This match completes the official season for the 2ndXV but their work is far from complete. The squad have a crucial role to play in supporting the 1stXV in their attempt to gain a quarter final place in the Schools Cup when they face none other than Armagh Royal next Saturday. It is likely that the 2nds squad will want to make that support count in the hope of gaining some sweet revenge.