Final score 29-12
After the highs of the wonderful win at Coleraine last week a somewhat changed ERGS side took to their home pitch for the game against Killicomaine from Portadown, who had been playing well this season. Duncan made his first start in the front row representing all the hard work he has been putting in on the training pitch and Nelson was in at blindside, looking to impress.
Winning the toss, captain Bothwell chose to use the blustery conditions to his advantage with his No 10, Love, kicking off into the heart of a sizeable opposition pack. With play inside the Killicomaine 22, the ERGS boys placed their opponents under all sorts of pressure resulting in a knock-on and a resultant scrum to the home side. From a solid and dominant scrum, Smyton picked and with his usual flair, speed and determination crossed for a very early score in the corner. The kick was missed. 5-0.
With a dominant start, ERGS were looking good and the expectation was for more of the same. However, from the restart, Courtney unfortunately knocked-on and ERGS found themselves under pressure in their own 22. It was clear from some of the early exchanges that the visitors had ability, especially in the ruck and this was to prove somewhat of a thorn in the home side for the rest of the game. From the resultant scrum, Clarke managed a strike against the head allowing Love to send a relieving kick back into the Killicomaine 22. Despite getting to the ball first ERGS failed to secure it and although under pressure the visitors managed to put some phases together, showing that they had not made the journey down the road to make up the numbers. Their ball retention was to be commended and when it looked like they were making ground it was a smashing tackle by Hamill in the middle of the park that halted their progress. At the resultant ruck, Killicomaine were deemed to be ‘off their feet’ and the subsequent penalty allowed Love to push ERGS deeper into opposition territory. However, despite having a decent scrum all game, ERGS lineout left a lot to be desired and not for the first time in the game ERGS succumbed to their opposition and ended up losing their momentum and ultimately possession.
Killicomaine played very nicely out of their own 22 and with each phase the boys in black looked stronger and stronger with a clear belief that they could cause the unbeaten ERGS side some significant problems. They moved the ball well and with confidence and only for some great hits by Courtney at 13 and covering tackles by Monaghan, they would certainly have had points on the board. With play mostly taking place in the middle third of the pitch both teams were going toe to toe, however the possession was being dominated by Killicomaine and the ERGS boys just looked to be lacking the spark that we have seen in every game so far this season. Slow to react, slow to get organised and losing the ball through aggressive and effective rucking by the visitors was beginning to frustrate the home side.
With Kiilcomaine looking the more hungry, they crept off side allowing Love to kick for touch once again. On the half way ERGS, this time won their lineout and Hamill managed to launch a decent box kick down the throat of the fullback. The pressure by Love forced the mistake and great support play by Bothwell bravely secured the ball on the ground. With quick ball available, Hamill fed Love who had quickly got back into position, going blind he fed Carrothers who round his opposite number to score a well worked try. Hamill slotted the points and ERGS found themselves 12-0 up.
At this stage the scoreline somewhat flattered ERGS who were not playing as well as they can and credit must go to a well drilled and organised Killicomaine side who by this stage of the game looked dangerous. However, ERGS were taking their opportunities and they soon had another. From another penalty to ERGS, Courtney, who was having another very solid game, set the ball up and in almost a repeat situation, Hamill fed Love on the blindside who released Carrothers who crossed the line for what looked a certain score. However, Carrothers uncharacteristically failed to ground the ball through an error of judgment and what should have been another 7 points went begging. An error we hope not to be repeated. Unfortunately Carrothers also sustained an injury during this episode and had to leave the pitch, replaced by Elliott who was immediately in the game with another blindside move by Love and Hamill. Elliott who had beaten his opposite number was hauled into touch off the try line by a superb covering tackle by the visiting number 7. The lineout allowed Killicomaine to clear their lines, further helped by a mis-field by Burns at 15.
At this stage Clarke was replaced by Kerr in the front row.
With the visitors now on half way they won the scrum and for the next few minutes they dominated the game. They picked the pace up and with continued effective and clever rucking they made ground taking play into the ERGS 22. Despite ERGS winning another penalty, they failed to secure the ball and relieve the pressure, allowing a now confident visiting pack to push them closer and closer to their try line. As happened on at least 5 occasions during the half, ERGS once again lost the ball in the ruck after doing the hard work of winning it. This continued failure to maintain possession, ultimately cost ERGS 7 points when Killicomaine scored a well deserved try under the posts through strong running by their centre.
The half finished 12-7 with ERGS looking a little uncertain and just not firing on all cylinders.
The second half started with further ERGS mistakes. Another knock-on resulted in immediate pressure for the home side. They did manage to win the ball after some sound tackling from Courtney and Hetherington, who was starting to get into the game, allowing Hamill to kick the ERGS boys into better territory. Unfortunately, once again the ball was lost in contact allowing Killicomaine the room to release their strong running back-line. With some swift and accurate passing they found space on the outside and ran in another great score under the posts. The kick was missed leaving the score at 12-12 and all to play to for.
Quite often the sign of a quality team is how they react to situations and for the next 5 minutes, the ERGS boys showed a glimmer of their quality. Clearly stunned from the visitors well deserved comeback, there was a cry for more effort, concentration and fire from Smyton and Bothwell who clearly were unhappy with their teams performance so far. Taking some time to regroup it was a very different ERGS team that restarted the game. From the kickoff, ERGS let rip and after 4 phases of direct and accurate rugby, Smyton crossed the line using his powerful upper body and leg drive for his second score. Score 17-12
This example of leading by example, sent a ripple through the ERGS boys and all of a sudden they looked alive. With more commitment to the tackle, more determination in the ruck and with that sense of pride restored the home side now looked like the team we have enjoyed watching so much this season. Seaman in at blindside took the game by the scruff off the neck and his physicality in contact started to have an impact. Graham, who had a good game was looking lively, Smyton had his dancing shoes on, Kerr was making the hard yards supported by Aiken and Monaghan, Hetherington was starting to show his strength and quality, Duncan was growing in confidence and for the first time in the game the 8 guys in the pack looked like a unit. Hamill was getting better ball and with some swift passing was allowing Love to get things moving out through the back-line.
It was this collective improvement that led to the next 2 scores within a few minutes.
Courtney fielded well and made some good ground, taking play just inside the visitors half. The ball was quickly recycled with strong rucking and another strong pick and go by Smyton. With wonderful support play the ball was rapidly secured for Hamill who spun the called move left. Love fed captain Bothwell who in turn fed the tank Monaghan who cleverly had positioned himself in midfield. This surprise extra man, caught the defence unaware and with some serious speed and agility Monaghan carved his way through the boys in black to score a great team try out wide. Love came close with the kick. Score 22-12
The returning Magee replaced Burns at 15 adding fresh legs to the attack.
The next score happened almost immediately as ERGS looked once again to stamp some authority on the game. After another high tackle by Killicomaine out on the right, just within their own half, ERGS once again had the platform from which to do some damage. With the forward pods looking more organised and runs from Hetherington, Aiken, Kerr and Duncan, all making positive yardage it was not long before ERGS were in the danger zone. Play was moving well and with swift hands the ball was spun left, set up and recycled. Hamill fed Aiken, who has continued to impress this season, on the charge, and with support from his pack he was driven over the line. Deemed to have been held-up, ERGS won the scrum and with the flash of the ball through simple and effective hands, Harte found the space out wide to score another lovely well worked try. Hamill added the points bringing the score to 29-12.
For most teams this final score would generally mean the end, however, the Killicomaine boys were not finished and for the closing minutes of the game they once again stood up to be counted. With the ERGS golden period halted, the visitors got back to their game of fast rucking rugby and went looking for more points. To ERGS credit they continued to play a more controlled game than we had witnessed in the first half and managed to create another few opportunities that just didn’t materialise into points. The game ended 29-12.
This was a game certainly of 2 halves. The ERGS boys for the first time this season looked out of sorts, especially in the first half and their sluggish approach to the game during that period of play quite rightly cost them points. Credit must go to a well drilled and organised Killicomaine side who provided excellent opposition and often gave the ERGS boys a lesson in rucking, a part of our game in which we take a lot of pride.
Ultimately ERGS were just too strong and although it was somewhat of a patchy and stop start performance, they must also receive credit for having the ability in the second half to turn the game rapidly on its head through playing some excellent direct and accurate rugby, scoring 3 great tries in a short period of time. Every game is a learning opportunity and for the ERGS boys, although they continue their run of wins will know in their own hearts that this type of performance, where they really only played to their ability for very short periods of time, will not cut the mustard on the battlegrounds they have yet to face.
Next week we head to Campbell College, a stronghold of schools rugby. All support will be very welcome as these young men continue on their rugby journey.