Enniskillen Royal continued their preparations for the Schools Cup with a friendly against local rivals, Omagh Academy. ERGS won the last encounter by 15-0 in Enniskillen so Omagh, on home turf, were hoping to reverse the outcome. For the early part of the match they showed great intent harassing the Fermanagh side into uncharacteristic errors. They kept ERGS inside their 22m line, aided by the visitor’s failure to execute their exit strategy, but couldn’t break down the Enniskillen defence.
It was Omagh’s indiscipline that led to ERGS moving play back up field and it was a feature throughout the match. By the end of the match Omagh had given away 12 penalties compared to 2 by the visitors. When they reached the Omagh 22m zone, ERGS ran a pre-planned move from a line out that almost put flanker, Harry Dane, through for a score. From the ensuing ruck they finished clinically when the powerful Neil Rutledge, driven on by his second-row partner, John Allan, charged through the defence and across the line for the opening score. Out half, Eddie Keys, converted the try.
Omagh came back strongly through their forwards and once again ERGS exit strategy let them down, giving the home side enough possession to eventually crash through for their first score. The Omagh conversion attempt hit the upright to leave the score at 7 points to 5.
Enniskillen, through discipled control of the ball, and by dint of more Omagh infringements, kept play within the Omagh half. They played multiple phased attacks that inevitably led to gaps in the Omagh defence and number 8, Callum Smyton, took full advantage to score under the post, Keys was successful with the conversion.
Smyton’s speed, aggression and agility make him a very hard player to lay hands on, let alone stop. The contest between Smyton and his mercurial captain, Parke, for ERGS’s top try scorer in this hugely successful season for Enniskillen adds a little spice to matters.
The first half finished without further score but not without incident. Two of Omagh’s best forwards clashed heads when tackling Rutledge who was on yet another charge. Both players went off with concussion which dampened Omagh’s chances of saving the game but, much more distressingly, with the concussion protocol it leaves them without two of their top players for their upcoming Ulster Schools Cup match in a fortnight.
The wind strengthened significantly in the second half and was now in favour of the visitors. Omagh’s work rate was admirable and they managed to threaten the Enniskillen line until an excellent box kick from ERGS scrum-half, Matthew McConkey, took play deep into the Omagh half. The visitor’s power and accuracy was beginning to overwhelm the home side and another try was not long in coming. Hooker, Ryan Phair, led a forward pod at the end of 8 phases to score his second try in two games. Once again, Keys converted.
Omagh’s resilience had to be admired as they put huge energy and commitment into attacking the visitors. However, with the wind behind them, Enniskillen, who had previously been relying on the jinking feet of their excellent full back, Taine Haire, to run back at the opposition, now kicked for field position through out-half, Keys.
Once in the Omagh half, ERGS were relentless. Allan was held up on the line when he broke from the back of a rolling maul and Smyton was denied a second try when the referee decided he was not in control of the ball when he touched down. Not to be denied, Smyton crossed the line a few minutes later to bring the score, with Key’s super conversion, to 28 points to 5.
From the restart, ERGS flanker, David Stinson, caught the ball and showed his speed in scything through the Omagh defence. Enniskillen were on the point of immediately capitalising on the break when the Omagh out-half cleverly read a loop pass between Rutledge and Keys to intercept and sprint down the pitch. Fortunately, he was hunted down by winger, Sam Milligan, and when the Omagh attack broke down Haire sent a long kick down field. Milligan chased the kick and used his footballing skills to bring the ball to the Omagh try line. Unfortunately, as he picked up to dive over for a try, his opposite wing tackled him from behind and knocked the ball out of his hand.
Omagh scored a consolation try through their forwards when ERGS failed to deal with a deep kick that almost reached their try line. It was a deserved reward for their sterling efforts. The game finished with the visitors pressing for another score. A decisive break by centre, Stephen Balfour, gave Enniskillen good field position, and had Key’s delicate chip to the corner bounced more kindly the right, wing Sam Balfour would have been on the score sheet. The game finished 28 points to 12 in favour of ERGS. They will be content with this warm up game and happy to see the return to play of their inside centre, the multi-talented Robbie Mills, who, returning from a lengthy injury absence, came on for ten minutes at the end. They will be less happy with their consistent failure to implement successful exit strategies. Omagh, who will have hoped for a much closer game, will be more concerned about the loss of their two influential forwards ahead of their Schools Cup match against Down High School on the 26th. The draw for the 4th round will be made on that day and ERGS will find out who they will be playing for a place in the quarterfinals.
ERGS Try scorers:- Neil Rutledge, Callum Smyton (2),Ryan Phair.
Conversions :- Eddie Keys (4)