On paper this promised to be a tight contest between two of the strongest 2ndXVs in school’s rugby and for the first half the game lived up to expectations with Royal going into the break ahead by 5 points to 3, thanks to a try from an exemplary rolling maul led by John Fitzpatrick. Given Royal’s recent record this might have been viewed as a slightly disappointing start but ERGS have a first round Cup match next Wednesday and fielded only those players who will be available on the day. As we know, academic work takes priority and a field trip rules 8 key players out of selection, add in a further two players who were unavailable due to injuries and a two point lead at half time looked positively wonderful.However, their woes were not yet over. Injuries in the 1stXV’s match meant a further 3 players, David Patton, Kyle Hobson and critically, captain James Balfour, had to transfer to the 1sts during play.
Meanwhile, Coleraine justified their reputation by quickly identifying the visitor’s enforced weaknesses. The home side’s scrum-half was extremely quick and cut off Royal’s supply to their strong mid-field partnership of Boles and Balfour while their out-half kicked long to Royal’s back three, most of whom were having to play out of position. A tendency by the visitors to let the ball bounce before retrieving these kicks gave Coleraine considerable gains and on two occasions it led to tries. ERGS kept at their task and managed another great try from the super slick Balfour/Boles partnership before Coleraine completed the scoring with a soft try by their right wing who kicked through and chased to score. The game finished 28-12 to Coleraine.
This was just a “friendly” match and of no account in the overall scheme, if you leave aside pride. Wednesday’s match, however, is the start of the 2ndXV Cup trail for a team that must have expectations of substantial advancement in the competition. Their opponents, Strabane, who they play at the Eisenhower fields at 2pm, are an unknown entity so while it would be very dangerous to think they will not be at Coleraine’s standard, there are plenty of positives to take from Royal’s performance on Saturday.
The forwards were the equal of Coleraine throughout the match. They are not as heavily impacted by the loss of the field trip players as the backs, indeed there will be a couple of players who were borrowed by the 1sts on Saturday who will be returning to the squad. The lineout was quite expertly managed, perhaps for the first time this season, and although the scrum gave ground on occasions, (putting further pressure on their beleaguered scrum-half), they controlled their own ball at every scrum. They carried well, defended admirably, and disrupted the opposition at every opportunity.
The backs made the best of the small amount of clean ball they received and the parts of their game that didn’t work well; the fielding of kicks by the back three and getting the ball away from the base of the scrum, are two items that can certainly be improved upon over the next couple of days.
There was no lack of passion in the squad, indeed frustration caused it to spill over into anger on occasions, but the biggest positive is that the match did exactly what it was designed to do; allow the squad to identify their individual and corporate weaknesses and to repair or mitigate them before Wednesday. It will be a busy two days for the 2ndXV squad.