Schools Cup, 22 November 2017
The 3rd XV made their first Schools Cup outing for some years when they met Collaiste Colmcille of Ballyshannon at Donegal Town Rugby Club on Wednesday morning.
The pitch at Donegal Town has an unsurpassed backdrop, located as it is on the north side of Donegal Bay, but it had suffered badly from the overnight rain. The referee, Michael brown, took the brave decision of letting the game proceed and he was proved correct as the rain lightened and the match finished without any injuries. That is not to say that conditions were pleasant, far from it. Heavy, muddy ground and a slippery ball made it difficult for either side to play expansive rugby so both teams relied on close forward moves. The teams were well matched and for the first half neither side made serious inroads or threaten each other’s try line.
Royal continually transgressed at the offside line and were lucky not to be more regularity or severely penalised. It was ironic, therefore, that Enniskillen went ahead via two penalties, both from the boot of full back, Craig Johnston. The visitors continued to press by mixing forward pods with a variety of kicks but Ballyshannon were up quickly in defence and had an uncanny knack of stealing ruck ball. They were effective with their counter attacking and as half time approached they were still very much in the game.
By the start of the second half Royal had worked out a simple game plan for the conditions; kick to the corners and use the forward to make ground through repeated “pick and goes”, known in old parlance as “up the jumper”! That they executed the plan with great composure and efficiency is to their considerable credit. Sam Frazer, Ally Jones, Andrew Humphries and James Graham led the way and scrum-half, Finbarr McCann kept the momentum going. No one player made huge meterage but the consistent recycling and driving was a feature that Ballyshannon could not fully counteract.
The half started by Royal having to defend a sustained attack from the home side, not helped by losing their out-half, Jack O Hare, to a yellow card for a marginal decision relating to lifting in the tackle. However, their defence held up thanks mainly to the efforts of their back row, made up of captain, Tom Pendry, Ally Jones and Sam Frazer. McCann, O’Hare and centre Curtis Coalter were resolute in mid-field while wings Jack Deane and Joel Honeyman made some crucial tackles out wide. The fact that Ballyshannon came away from this period without a single point could be seen as a turning point in the match. Johnston was able to put a relieving penalty kick deep into the opposition half and Royal began to employ the pick and go tactic to great effect. Eventually the relentless nature of the attacks gave their hooker, Ben Thompson, a slither of space and he dived over for the first try of the match and an eleven point lead. Thompson repeated the manoeuvre 5 minutes later following an excellent break from centre, Thom Morton, which allowed Royal to set up another series of forward drives that brought them up to the Ballyshannon try line.
By this stage the visitors had won a sufficient margin of points to allow them to move the ball around. Coalter made a break through the centre and when the ball came to Frazer in support he showed great speed and determination to score under the posts. Johnston converted to bring the score to 23 points to nil.
Royal stepped up another gear when they brought on fresh legs in the form of Adam Edwards at prop, Craig Humes at full back and wings Ollie Goodall and Ollie Caldbeck. Johnston and O’Hare continued to pin Ballyshannon back into their own 22 with accurate kicks. From a set scrum close to the line Jones picked from the back and handed a deft pass to O’Hare who cut a good line through to score without a hand being laid on him. Johnston converted. Royal finished the game with another try when Deane made a break down the left wing. From the ruck O’Hare kicked behind the Ballyshannon backs, their full back failed to secure the ball O’Hare was in place to receive a pass from Johnston to crash over the line, well supported by Rooney and Goodall. Johnston converted to give a final score of 37 – 0.
The 3rdXV can now move on to the second round of the Cup with a degree of confidence. They displayed great patience during the early periods of the game and got their reward in the second half. The forwards were particularly effective during this period. The second row of Michael Rooney and Kyle Davis, who normally play as flankers, both had excellent games and gave the pack additional mobility combined with good handling skills. The backs proved to be a potent strike force, even in the mud and rain, and we look forward to seeing more from them on harder ground. All in all a very gratifying and entertaining performance in difficult conditions.