Last season this fixture ended in a 12 point draw but right from the kick-off it was clear that Enniskillen Royal had made the greater strides in the intervening year. The visitors were under pressure from the off and when they failed to clear their lines with a misdirected kick, no. 8, Albert Gauley, with ball in hand was the victim of a high tackle. Craig Johnston, at full back, slotted the penalty to open Royal’s account.
Shortly afterwards scrum half, Matthew McConkey, made a decisive break around the side of a set scrum and a simple off-load would have resulted in a score. Unfortunately, there was no-one there to take the immediate off-load and when they did arrive the ball was knocked on. Sadly, these two failings featured regularly in the rest of the game.
Royal’s defence on the other hand was very impressive, if a little narrow, and they soon won the ball back to allow Ryan Daly to make a significant carry before off-loading to Gauley who completed the try. Johnston converted for the extra two points.
Over the next 10 minutes Royal managed to give away 5 consecutive penalties which negated a lot of the carries by props David Patton and Jack Coulter and by flanker Cormac Boylan. The series of kicks that followed, brought the visitors close to Royals try line for the first time in the match but the home side‘s defence stayed strong and they soon regained possession. From a scrum on the touch line Royal whipped the ball across the full width of the pitch where flanker Harry Dane used his considerable strength and speed to break a couple of tackles and score behind the posts. Johnston popped the ball over to give Royal a 17 point lead.
Rainey’s problems continued when they had a man sin binned for a spear tackle on Royal’s out half, George Foster. From the penalty, McConkey took a quick tap to set Coulter charging for the line. He passed to Patton but stayed around long enough to ‘pick and go’ when Patton was tackled and to cross the line for Royals third. Johnston converted once again.
Royal finished the half with the simplest of moves from the back of a set scrum. Gauley picked up the ball at the base of the scrum and raced straight at the blind side winger and, with McConkey running wide, he passed to his scrum half as soon as the winger was committed, leaving McConkey an easy run in for Royal’s fourth try. A standard training ground move, beautifully executed and the Fermanagh men went into the break 22 points up.
During half time three of the 2ndXV players were called up to the 1stXV while substitutions were also made due to injuries and the home side’s continuity was considerably disrupted. Both props were replaced, fortunately by the very capable pairing of James Graham and Josiah Johnston and they maintained Royal’s dominance in the scrums. Nevertheless, Rainey took their chance to get back into the game, and while their only try came from an intercepted pass midway through the second half, they put Royal under considerable pressure for a sustained period. Once again, the defence was impressive with good performances from team captain, James Balfour, from his centre partner, Thom Morton, and from the back three of Conor Goodall, Jack Deane and Ben Donaldson.
Although the game see-sawed back and forth in the middle period of the half Royal slowly regained control of the match, though not always controlling the ball. Knock-ons, wayward passes and an outbreak of white line fever blunted many promising attacks. During this period hooker, John Fitzpatrick and lock, Andrew Humphries did some sterling work carrying the ball while the replacement back row of Tom Pendry, Kyle Davis and Michael Rooney steadied things in defence. Two promising young wings, Ollie Goodall and Angus Frazer, came on for Royal and the last minutes of the match saw Enniskillen pounding the Rainey try line. In the last play of the game a determined effort by Patton brought about a just reward when he broke through the opposition defence and sprinted the final 10 metres to touch down. Johnston took the final kick of the match to complete a successful day from the tee and to give Royal a final score of 34 points to Rainey’s 7.
The ball was wet, the wind was swirling and many, normally very safe hands failed to hold onto passes. Despite this and the disruption caused by multiple substitutions it was another solid performance by Royal’s 2ndXV. Rainey came to town with some notable scalps under their belt but were soundly beaten by a stronger team, a team that is still developing, absorbing the young talents of Morton, Frazer, Goodall, Johnston, Rooney, Daly and Foster. In this the 2nds are very fortunate to be captained by James Balfour, a player of considerable quality and the possessor of comprehensive skills.