The success of last season’s 2XV was always going to be difficult to emulate, (as they only lost to one school throughout the year), but this year’s crew made an excellent start when they overwhelmed Foyle at home by 38 points to 5. The fact that the majority of the squad comes from Year 12 makes it all the more impressive.
Led by the battle-hardened Tom Pendry, ERGS were on top from the start showing great mobility and a desire to keep the ball alive at all costs. Ben Davis, Mathew Graham and Matthew Beatty punched through the gain line time and again allowing scrum half, Andrew Patton, to keep moving the ball out towards the wings . The handling skills, most notably the timing and accuracy of passes combined with intelligent running lines made for flowing rugby that was entertaining as well as being very effective.
John Fitzpatrick, a hooker possessed of excellent footwork, made the opening score. Having been denied moments before when the referee judged his charge for the line as being “held up”, he returned to the fray once again and ERGS went into an early 5 to nil lead. George Foster’s conversion attempt skimmed the outside of the righthand post, his only miss of the day.
Smooth handling and clever reading of the game by ERGS meant the point of attack was ever changing and Foyle simply couldn’t cover all gaps. A try for Henry Keys and a second for John Fitzpatrick, both through forward dominance at rucks, brought the score to 19-0 in favour the home side. When Foyle’s valiant attempts to power their way out of their 22m zone failed they resorted to clearance kicks. These were comfortably fielded by Jack O’Hare who was consummate at full back. He was intelligently supported by retreating centres, Stephen Balfour and Thom Morton. Together they quickly turned defence into attack and speedy wings Sam Balfour and Jason Bothwell were given plenty of opportunity to show their turn of foot, both making considerable meterage. One such counter attack led to Balfour skipping past two players to run around behind the posts for Royal’s fourth try and a halftime score of ERGS 26 – Foyle 0.
Whether Foyle upped their game in the second half or ERGS slackened their pace is difficult to tell but this half turned out to be a much closer affair. EGRS integrated 7 subs into the game during the half which may have disrupted their continuity but the quality of the players was not diminished, as evidenced by the performances of Craig Johnston at full back and Angus Fraser at centre. However, the loss of dominance at the ruck meant that replacement wings Ben Donaldson and James McKee had almost no attacking ball. They were, never the less, resolute in defence.
It was in the forwards that Foyle found expression for their renewed vigour. Some very solid members of their pack played repeated “pick and go” to great effect. Relentless recycling aided by good handling at the base of the ruck brought them up to the ERGS try line for the first time and they were rewarded with an unconverted try. As often happens with a score in such circumstances, confidence was boosted and Foyle made the second half a much more even contest.
Despite this revival by the opposition ERGS were never going to lose the match and as the second half wore on their power and speed, if not their organisation, led to a modicum of dominance being restored. Hugo Graham and George Foster kept varying the plays; David Scollan’s accurate throwing maintained the line out superiority with quite a few steals by Zac Havers and Michael Rooney; John Elliot put in an excellent shift in rucks and mauls. Two more ERGS tries followed, one via slick passing in the backs finished off by Craig Johnston and one through the pack where captain, Tom Pendry, got just reward for his relentless work rate.
It was a competent performance against a traditionally weaker side and while more difficult opponents lie ahead the players and coaches can be well satisfied with the skill levels and commitment shown by this young side .
Try scorers:- John Fitzpatrick (2), Henry Keys, Sam Balfour, Tom Pendry, Craig Johnston.
Conversions:- George Foster (4)