9 February 2019
There are no easy games in the 4th round of this competition. The teams are there, either by dint of consistent wins through-out the season leading to a high ranking in the case of Enniskillen Royal, or by fighting their way through three previous rounds, in the case of Down High School. Either way, you have earned the right to be there, but so has your opponent.
Storm Eric, no doubt in deference to the gravity of the occasion, offered a respite from the overnight wind and rain and, despite being wet under foot, it was a beautiful morning for rugby. Both sides were almost up to full strength so there were no excuses.
ERGS set out their stall from the start with powerful forward pods, mid-field breaks and delicate kicks from their out-half Eddie Keys. Down responded with a resolute defence, accurate kicking from their Irish U19 out-half, Greg Hutley, and some good forward carries. For the first ten minutes the two teams tested each other and play bounced between the two 22m lines. Enniskillen made the first decisive break when Enniskillen’s talismanic captain, Alex Parke, spotted a mis-match and scorched out and around a pair of Down forwards. He was only prevented from scoring by a tackle from Down’s outside centre, Andrew McCoubrey. A tackle the referee judged to be high.
With the ensuing penalty Keys brought the play close to Down’s try line where successive attempts by ERGS to cross the line failed at the last pass. However, pressure from Enniskillen forced Down into giving away penalties and so, retrieved the ball. From a ruck inside the Down 22m ERGS scrum-half Matthew McConkey fed a ball wide to lock, John Allan, who deftly off-loaded back inside to a charging Ryan Phair. Phair’s excellent line took him to within a couple of metres of the try line. A quick feed to Keys allowed a long pass to Parke who jinked through the struggling Down defence for the first score of the match. Keys converted and Enniskillen went into a 7 point lead.
ERGS kept up the pressure. As expected, they dominated the scrums thanks to the excellent front row of Andrew Dane, Justin White and hooker, Phair, but it was the relentless carries in the loose that was so troublesome for Down. Back row players Callum Smyton and David Stinson featured time and again but it was the outstanding work of the immensely powerful lock, Neil Rutledge, that did most of the damage. Hutley’s boot provided the only respite for the beleaguered Down team. Although his deep kicks were comfortably dealt with by the ERGS back three of full back, Taine Haire, and wings Stuart Brown and Curtis Coalter, he managed to convert a penalty late in the first half to bring the score to 7 points to 3. Down did have one solid chance to score when inside centre, Luka Walsh, intercepted a pass meant for Robbie Mills. Mills at inside centre, had put himself in an excellent position to score when Walsh snatched the ball away. It took a try saving tackle from Haire, to finally bring Walsh to ground.
Down made a good start to the second half and were unlucky not to score when, having cleverly created a three on two, they dropped the ball just a couple of metres short of the ERGS try line. Further misfortune followed when their prop, Joe Charles, was handed a yellow card for an early interference on the ERGS scrum-half. Enniskillen were quick to take advantage of the extra man. Keys put the ball deep into the corner and the pack drove up to the whitewash from the lineout. Smyton, so dangerous from short distances, forced his way over to add to his long list of tries for the season. Keys, once again, made good the conversion.
With a 14 – 3 safety margin the Enniskillen team opened their shoulders and played their most attractive rugby to the delight of the substantial crowd that had gathered at the Eisenhower fields. Flanker, Harry Dane made a good break to take the ball up to the Down line and, had the pass not gone astray, winger Brown had a simple walk-in. Minutes later Brown was stopped short at the end of a slick backs move. From the ruck Parke fed Allan, who supported by Henry Keys and Mills, drove over the line. It was a just reward for the lock who had been so effective in defence throughout the game. The attempted conversion by Keys slid past the posts and the game finished shortly afterwards with a well-deserved 19 points to 3 victory for Enniskillen Royal.
The draw for the Schools Cup quarter-finals was made shortly after the game. ERGS will travel to Belfast on the 23rd of February to take on defending champions and old rivals, Campbell College. They will have to step up a gear if they want to claim a place in the semis but, on the basis of the game against Down, it’s easy to believe that they may even have two more gears in the box.
ERGS Try Scores:- Alex Parke, Callum Smyton, John Allan
Conversions:- Eddie Keys (2)
Down HS Penalties:- Greg Hutley