Enniskillen Royal 1stXV vs Armagh RFC U18s
1 December 2018
A clash between Ulster’s 4th ranked school’s team, Enniskillen Royal and club rugby’s league leaders, Armagh U18s promised to be a fascinating contest and the grey drizzle at the Eisenhower Fields did little to dilute the frisson.
Enniskillen were gifted an early try when Armagh’s left-wing bit in to cover a break by scrum-half, Matthew McConkey, who committed the player before releasing Stuart Brown on the right wing for a straight run in. Armagh came back strongly with carries by their locks, Cathal Devlin and Sam Murray, they were only prevented from levelling the score by an accidental off-side. From the ensuing scrum ERGS’s number 8, Callum Smyton broke to the blind side, via McConkey’s quick hands, Brown set off for the line once again. There was no straight run this time but by dint of speed and agility the result was the same and ERGS went into an early, unexpected 12 points lead.
The next quarter gave a truer picture of the contest than the score line suggested as Armagh’s forwards displayed mobility and power in repeated carries and repeated gains. ERGS well renowned defence was at full stretch to prevent the visitors from scoring. The visitor’s back row of Tim Henry, Aaron Whyte and their captain, Cameron Steenson, looked particularly dangerous. It was very much against the run of play that Royal found themselves with a line out inside the Armagh 22m line, mostly due to a couple of opposition infringements. ERGS brought the ball down, formed a rolling maul and flanker, David Stinson, with the speed of a wing, peeled off and sprinted over for a try.
Undaunted, Armagh returned to forward carries and put relentless pressure on the home side defence to make their way back down to the ERGS’s 22m zone. It was becoming apparent that while Armagh had strong talented forwards and a good back line, headed by their substantial inside centre, Elvinas Kilimonis, they lacked a cutting-edge strike force. Enniskillen, on the other hand, had a few, not least their captain, Alex Parke. Parke has been a prolific try scorer all season as well as a stalwart in defence. He had already made two decisive breaks in the game and when inside centre, Stephen Balfour, off-loaded out of a tackle he was given just enough space to step and jink his way through the Armagh defence and score under the posts. Keys made no
mistake with the conversion to put ERGS ahead by 24 points.
That Parke has not been called into the Ulster Academy, despite frequent reminders, leads one to wonder if “west of the Bann” means out of sight from Ulster rugby. The lack of regular fixtures for ERGS against the top Belfast sides, despite their equally high ranking, must be putting the Enniskillen players at a disadvantage in terms of recognition.
Armagh have not reached the top of their league by luck and showed their true mettle by firing out of the blocks in the second half. They pounded the Enniskillen try line and both Murray and Whyte were held up a metre short. The visitors played some wonderful rugby over the next period with strong carries, swift switches of direction, great mobility and deft handling. Even with a slippery ball, a strong defence and a lack of that strike power it was still surprising that they failed to score.
Having weathered the storm and facing tiring players ERGS made good use of the spaces that began to open up. The front row props, Andrew Dane and Justin White plus hookers Ryan Phair and replacement William Dowson were in complete control of the scrums and provided consistent possession in the final period. Replacement scrum-half, Matthew Bothwell, and Smyton contrived a dummy move at the base of a scrum inside the visitor’s 22m line to give inside centre, Stephen Balfour, the opportunity to cross the line. Bothwell set up Smyton a few minutes later and the talented number 8 scythed through for the final score of the game.
Tired they may well have been, but this excellent Armagh team refused to relent at any stage in the match. The addition of their missing players, a talented full back and an Irish U19 lock, could well have made this a much tighter game but whether they could ever match the speed and accuracy of this talented young school side in order to secure a win is debatable.
ERGS Try scorer:- Stuart Brown (2), Alex Parke, Stephen Balfour, David Stinson, Callum Smyton
Conversions:- Eddie Keys (4)