Enniskillen hosted their local rivals, Omagh Academy, in fairly torrid conditions on Saturday morning. It is their last match of 2018 and their last match under South African coach, Rhys Botha. Rhys, who will be moving to Bangor Grammar in January, about 80 miles closer to his home base, can only have been pleased with his young team’s performance.
Although the first 10 minutes were littered with ERGS handling mistakes, mistakes that put Omagh in a dominant position, they gradually recovered and worked their way back into contention. The play moved slowly from the home side’s 22m zone back to Omagh’s.
A well worked link between forwards and backs started with an Omagh kick deep in the ERGS half where it was efficiently collected by full back, Jack O’Hare. He fed his captain, Alex Parke, for one of his jinking solo runs before he passed to lock, John Allan, in support on the wing. From the tackle on Allan, scrum-half Matthew McConkey linked with Enniskillen’s two Ulster U16 players, Callum Smyton and Justin White, who drove through the mid-field defence. McConkey, on hand as ever, passed the ball from the ensuing ruck to his out-half, Eddie Keys, who slotted the ball between the defenders to bring his team up to within 5 metres of Omagh’s try line. The entire integrated phase of play displayed ERGS’s excellent mobility, skill and decision making.
Flanker, Harry Dane was very unlucky not to be able to finish the move with a score when the ball bobbled unkindly as he went to pick it up for dive over the line. Moments later his partner on the flank, David Stinson, corrected the error when he touched down following bullocking runs from prop, Andrew Dane and number 8, Smyton. Keys’s conversion was charged down by one of Omagh’s giant locks, a tactic that, surprisingly, is rarely used these days. The first half finished with the visitors pinned down close to their line where stalwart defending and a wet ball prevented Enniskillen adding to their 5 points to nil lead.
It was still all to play for in the second half and the visitors were not found wanting. They kept possession of the ball, played multiple phases, mostly through their forwards, and put the Enniskillen line under considerable pressure. Omagh have been continually ranked in Ulster’s top 12 rugby schools and are having a good season with some notable victories. However, under Botha, ERGS have developed a well organised defence that is very quickly off the line and very disciplined when required to drift. Remarkably they have only conceded 8 tries in 12 matches this season with 6 clean sheets.
Never the less, the next try by Enniskillen would have to described as “against the run of play”. The powerful ERGS lock, Neil Rutledge, ripped the ball from an Omagh maul inside the home side’s 22m and fed Stinson and White who made 20 metres before Keys placed a delicate kick in behind the Omagh defence. The mercurial Parke got to the ball before the defenders and skilfully dribbled the ball over the line before diving on it for yet another try from this talented centre.
Omagh continued to play with resilience and determination but confidence was high on the Enniskillen side and they absorbed the Omagh pressure with some ease before a penalty against the visitors gave Keys the chance to go for the corner. A slick rolling maul from the line out took hooker, Ryan Phair, over the line for his team’s third try. A strong Enniskillen bench and some accurate kicking from Keys meant the game finished with Omagh struggling to keep ERGS from adding to their 15 points lead.
With the departure of Botha, the school are fortunate to be able to call upon Ashley Finlay to step into the roll of Head of Rugby. Finlay, an Ulster Junior full back and past pupil, has been working beside Botha for the past 5 years. The coaching staff will be boosted by Botha’s academic replacement, Stewart McCain, the current scrum-half and captain of Omagh “Accies” who takes up his post in January.
The 1stXV, who are currently ranked 5th in Ulster Schools rugby, join the Danske Bank Ulster Schools cup in the 4th round. Their opponent is yet to be decided and while there are no easy games at that stage of the competition it is unlikely that any team will welcome being drawn against this young ERGS side. There is little doubt that amongst the crowd on the day there will be a certain swarthy South African rugby coach loudly cheering them on !
ERGS Try scorers:- Ryan Phair, David Stinson, Alex Parke