After an enforced break of 2 weeks due to no game on the 29th September, it was on a beautiful, crisp and still morning that the U14’s took to the pitch for their first home game of the season.
Expecting a tough physical encounter from a large Rainey pack, captain Bothwell and pack leader Smyton, knew that to give the home support the result they wanted, their troops would have to be prepared to front up and put in the hard yards.
Rainey won the toss and forced ERGS to receive the kick off into the bright morning sun. With the ball knocked-on, it was quickly the first scrum of the game and it immediately became clear to the ERGS pack that the Rainey boys had come to play. After a few phases of ‘getting to know you rucking’, ERGS secured the ball in the middle of the pitch within their 22. From the base of the ruck, Hamill launched the first of what were several well placed kicks, up and behind the fast approaching Rainey defence. The chase by Love and Harte caused a knock on by the Rainey full back and suddenly from a period of initial pressure ERGS found themselves in the Rainey half with some momentum. From the resultant scrum, Love at 10, called a training pitch blindside move and received the ball at pace from Hamill. With his tail up, he found Carrothers on the wing who set off like a jet plane and but for a wonderful covering tackle would have been across the line. Thankfully the support was there and ERGS recycled the ball quickly and on the 3rd phase ‘the engine’ Hetherington crashed over for the first score of the game. The kick was pulled wide. A good start by the ERGS boys.
From the Rainey re-start, the ball was switched right and was unfortunately knocked on by Courtney, his only small mistake in what was another super performance by the fast improving number 13. From this moment, a very scrappy 10-12 minutes followed where ERGS for the first time this season, just seemed to lose their way and pattern. Rainey had woken up from the bus journey and clearly fancied their chances up front and showed on several occasions their willingness and ability to run the ball wide with some conviction. Good covering tackles by Harte and Burns saved the day a few times during this period when there is no doubt that the Rainey pack had the upper hand. ERGS conceded several silly penalties and this just allowed the pressure to mount. This was not helped by a Rainey defence which was up fast and on several occasions certainly pushed the limits of the off side rule to the maximum. The ERGS pack unfortunately, just seemed not to be firing on all cylinders.
However, it has to be said that ERGS did show character during this part of the game, they knew that things weren’t going to plan, but they dug in and keeping Rainey from crossing their line during this period of the game was a huge positive for the boys.
The next significant phase of play was one which then set the tone for the rest of the game. From deep within their own 22, ERGS secured ball, Hamill launched another pressure relieving, high and long kick, in behind and to the left of the Rainey fullback. Harte and Love were once again the first chasers and from this pressure Rainey conceded their first penalty of the game just inside their 22. This was for offside at the ruck, a decision that felt like it was a long time coming for what were repeated off side infringements from the visitors. ERGS seized their opportunity to put pressure now on a backtracking Rainey. Hetherington, Clarke and Aiken all carried in succession with 3 quick and well executed rucks. On the 4th phase, Love spotted the space and without a second invitation received the ball from Hamill, switched play, and powered through to secure another 5 points. This was a well worked and confident score and with 2 visits into the Rainey 22 and 2 tries to show for it, it was clear that ERGS had the ability to take their chances when presented with them.
From the restart, Courtney fielded strongly setting up the first phase. Seaman, who had another solid game, stepped up for the second phase, with the busy Courtney there again to take on the ball for the third successive ruck. With the Rainey defence on the back foot, Love, who was now starting to get a handle on proceedings, called blind. Receiving from Hamill, he released the dependable Burns, who took out the last defender to release the effervescent Carrothers who did what he does best and added another 5 points out wide.
With 15 points on the board the ERGS boys now had their tails up and they finished the half very strongly causing all manner of problems for the hard working Rainey defence. The front row of Hetherington, Clarke and Kerr were starting to get on top of their larger opponents and the back-row of Graham, Seaman and the powerful Smyton were coming more and more into the game. Quite quickly ERGS were back in the Rainey 22. Clarke, who carried well all game, took a sharp, short pass from Hamill on the blindside. Clarke was able to set the ball up with help from an awakening Monaghan giving Hamill the chance to swing play back across a retreating Rainey back line. Love was just about to deliver the called moved when he spotted the gap and in his typical gritty and determined fashion broke free to score his second try under the posts. Hamill added the points leaving the halftime score 22-0.
After a few brisk words from the coaches, ERGS, who had had a mixed first half entered into the second half more determined to get back to their game plan and deliver to the spectators an even more dominant performance. From the restart ERGS secured the ball after great pressure from Aiken, who along with his second row partner, Monaghan were just beginning to get into the game. With the ball nicely presented, Hamill spun to Love, who again spotted that gap in the Rainey defence just outside the shoulder of his opposite number. Again he exploited it with a divine sidestep that any player, at any level would have been proud off. Adding speed and just sheer strength, he ducked and dived his way through the Rainey scrambling defence to notch up his hat trick under the posts. Well done Darragh. Hamill popped the ball over.
At this stage of the game ERGS were now the dominant feature. The Rainey forwards looked tired and as ERGS improved their communication and personal commitment to the breakdown and tackle, the game was only going to go one way. The next score was one Love had been waiting for all season!! With 3rd phase ball secured by the ERGS pack, Love called the move after having spotted the space out wide. With the pass good from Hamill, Love launched a lovely kick across the field towards Harte. The kick was pretty much perfect, landing behind Harte’s opposite number. As he had done all game, Harte chased hard, picked up the ball on the bounce inside the Rainey 22 and beat the last defender to score a lovely, exciting and clever try out wide on the right. I’m sure Love will be talking about this one for some time.
As expected Rainey were not done yet. They had battled hard all game with aggressive line speed and a clear wish to play a hard game of rugby. It was from the pressure they exerted in midfield, all game, that they got their reward. Inside the ERGS half, ERGS attempted to run the ball back at Rainey. Rainey pushing hard through their 10,12 and 13 placed Love under severe pressure causing him to make an uncharacteristic mistake. The Rainey midfield pounced and with some neat and tidy handling they crossed the line to secure 7 well deserved points.
With Nelson on for Seaman at 6, Elliott on for Harte at 14, Magee on at 15 for Burns and Duncan on for Kerr in the murky world of the front row, ERGS had to settle again for the last 1/3 of the game. Disappointed with themselves for giving up a clean sheet the ERGS boys decided to turn the notch up another 10% and they finished out the last 15 minutes of the game with some quality and dominant rugby. Their fitness and willingness to work right to the end rewarded them with another 3 scores of some quality.
It was also unfortunate to lose Courtney through a knee injury, someone who is steadily showing his capabilities and who put his body on the line today in attack and defence. Further reshuffling was required, however this didn’t dampen the ERGS fire.
Getting things moving was captain Bothwell at 12, who had had a somewhat quiet game, however he was about to change that with 2 examples of the talent and skill this young lad has and why he bears the responsibility of captain. Both led to the next score. The first showed his ability to tackle as hard as anybody on the pitch, the second showed his ability to time and deliver a pass of pure quality. From an upfield kick from Hamill, Bothwell not only crunched the ball receiver, but ripped the ball and continued to move forward, all in one movement. His awareness of the support allowed the play to continue to within the Rainey half where Love and Graham took things forward. With Love out of the game, Bothwell stepped into 10 and called for the ball from Hamill. Finding himself facing 2 defenders with Carrothers outside him, raring to go, the easiest thing would have been to spin an early pass, but Bothwell used his brain. He stepped the first defender, drew in the second and with exquisite timing floated a pass to Carrothers who with the space now created raced to score under the posts for another fine try. Wonderful to watch. Hamill added the extras.
The final 2 scores resulted from hugely powerful and direct running by Monaghan, Smyton and Aiken, all starting to enjoy the space they were finding. Smyton, from within his own 22 went on a typical jinking, smashing and commando rolling run, fighting his way to within the Rainey 22. With super support from his pack he fed the rampaging ‘Irish Tank’ of Monaghan, who was eventually hauled down short of the line. With the defence in tatters, the ball was simply popped out through the hands of the advancing ERGS back-line to allow Harte who was back on for Carrothers, to run in another score.
From the kick off, it was more of the same with the ERGS pack now totally dominant. Further carries from Monaghan, Smyton, Aiken as well as a beautiful ball collected with style by the developing Magee in at 15, who had his best game in an ERGS jersey, all brought play to within the Rainey 22. From another short period of loose play, up popped the riotous figure of Smyton who finished the game off by crossing the line to close the score at 51-7.
Overall this was a resounding win for the ERGS U14 squad who continue to improve week by week. They are starting to show better game craft and a better understanding of the tactical side of the game and today they showed real character in that period of the first half when things just weren’t going their way. The learning curve is steep but these boys are willing to learn, they are a joy to coach and they are determined to get better and better. Each and everyone of them should be very proud of a great mornings work!!