Enniskillen’s coaches were looking for a quality opponent and a tough game as part of their lead in to their Cup run and they got just that in this away fixture early on Saturday morning.
BRA have recently played and beaten both Campbell and Armagh while ERGS have not played since beating Omagh in the middle of December and that rustiness showed as the home side dominated the first 15 minutes. The visitors repelled repeated attacks but the formidable BRA number 8 combined with his centres to set up a three on two which they finished with a try by the inside centre which his partner converted.
From the restart BRA knocked the ball on and gave ERGS not only good field position but the momentum to compete more effectively. Callum Smyton, playing at number 8, broke to the blind side of the scrum and released left wing Sam Balfour who made his way to the BRA 22m line. From there ERGS recycled the ball and with carries by captain, Alex Parke, right wing, Stuart Brown, and props Justin White and Andrew Dane, brought the play up to the opposition try line where further pressure brought about a penalty from BRA for not releasing in the tackle. ERGS opted for a 5-metre scrum from which Smyton broke to the left to set up a ruck. Hooker, Ryan Phair, picked from the base and, driven on by locks Neil Rutledge and John Allan, crossed the line for the visitors opening score.
BRA’s best efforts to return play to inside the opposition’s 22m line were thwarted by Parke, who despite carrying a heavy cold and an injured shoulder, make two significant breaks and off loaded to Brown on the wing. Never one to squander an opportunity the speedy wing scampered away from the defence to score under the posts. Out-half, Eddie Keys converted to give the Fermanagh side a 12 points to 7 lead. Although ERGS were having difficulty with their line-outs where BRA’s 6’-7” lock was causing havoc, they were conversely dominant in the scrums. The front row of squad Dane, Phair and White plus Matthew Graham and William Dowson have been controlling the scrums all season, whoever the opposition is. It’s unfortunate for them that they can only drive 1.5m at schoolboy level, in the senior game they would have forced their opponents to concede regular penalties.
The game progressed with ERGS making good line breaks but unable to finish the moves and clock up further points. Both Neil Rutledge and flanker Harry Dane made telling breaks but the best chance came when inside centre, Stephen Balfour, handed off a BRA flanker and sped down the touch line. His off-load out of the covering tackle to supporting wing-forward, David Stinson, would have been a certain try had Balfour’s foot not clipped the touch line.
Despite the pressure from ERGS the half finished with a mistake at their own line-out which allowed the BRA number 8 to run through two soft tackles before being brought to ground by Taine Haire at full back. He was still able to off load to a supporting team mate who went over for a try and evened the score at 12 points each.
Enniskillen went back into the lead early in the second half thanks to an individual score by Ulster’s U17 captain, Smyton. He broke from the back of a scrum, and with number 9, Matthew McConkey, making a dummy run on the blind side, he evaded two tackles and neatly sidestepped the full back for a try which Keys converted. ERGS lead was, however, short lived. BRA were awarded a penalty in the centre of the park and a good kick to touch brought play inside the ERGS 22m line. The home side formed a rolling maul from the line-out which ERGS were able to frustrate but they were forced to defend on their line against multiple BRA forward attacks before their tall lock stretched his arm out to score and, with the conversion, put the teams back on level terms.
The visitors, looking to the future and ignoring the precarious score line, brought on their subs. The fresh legs allowed ERGS to push downfield and pressurise the BRA line but they failed to come away with points. The last word went to BRA when they were awarded a kickable, but somewhat dubious penalty. Their outside centre made no mistake and the home side scraped a narrow victory.
ERGS are well able to compete at this level and may feel aggrieved at having the game snatched from them at the last moment. However, they will need to sort out a few aspects if they are to close out games against the top sides. They lost 8 of their own line outs, were susceptible to counter rucks and failed to find touch with penalty kicks. These are far from insurmountable problems and they still have 5 weeks before they join the Cup in the fourth round. Commitment to training and a willingness to learn from their mistakes will leave this team as formidable opponents that many of the surviving schools will be hoping to avoid when the draw is made at the end of the month.
ERGS Try scorer:- Stuart Brown, Ryan Phair & Callum Smyton.
Penalty:- Eddie Keys (2)