Dungannon 5 ERGS 17
For the first game of 2019 after what had been a 5 week break from competitive rugby, ERGS made the short trip for the return fixture against Dungannon. Having met in Castle Lane on the 13th October, where ERGS came out on top the boys knew that they would face a determined Dungannon side looking to even the scores. The October score sheet possibly flattered ERGS, who in terrible conditions had to work extremely hard for their win and managed to put the points on the board within 2 golden spells where they dominated, however, the visitors showed, during a long spell in that game that they had the ability to match ERGS up front and if given the space, could cause problems with their strong No 10 as the linchpin. So it was with this knowledge, that the ERGS lads took to the pitch well aware that they were going to have to do battle to come away with the win.
The team sheet looked pretty familiar for the visitors, however the loss of hooker Clarke through a nasty injury had created the opportunity for Duncan to once again step into the front row to demonstrate his wonderful progression this season as his fitness and technical ability has improved, week on week. Magee was out with ligament damage but all other positions were unchanged and after a good warmup, Captain Bothwell and pack leader Smyton, organised their troops to receive the kick off on what was a cold but reasonable day for a rugby game. On the sidelines were the usual hardline supporters for both sides with a number having made the journey from Fermanagh to lend their voice and wisdom.
With the talented Dungannon out half getting things under way it was only a matter of seconds before it was clear that this was going to be a robust affair. ERGS started very brightly with some superb barrelling carries by the big men of Holmes, Smyton, Hetherington and Aiken who managed to punch some significant holes in a somewhat shocked home defence who eventually gave away a penalty for coming in off their feet. The dynamic Love sent the kick into the bottom corner and within 3 mins ERGS were deep inside the Dungannon 22. Unfortunately ERGS knocked on soon after winning the line out and the first scrum of the game was set. Dungannon managed to clear their lines and they then covered the kick very well with a great tackle on the dangerous receiver Carrothers, who had caused them significant problems in October. With the early pressure relieved the home side started to find their feet and over the next few minutes the game very much centred around the 2 packs sorting out the ‘ground rules’. Burns at full back had some work to do as the Dungannon 10 attempted to keep the advancing ERGS team pinned back in their own half, however, continued strong running from Hetherington, Kerr and Holmes made sure that any ground lost was soon made up. At this point the exchanges in the loose was just in the ERGS boys favour and the work that had been done all winter on the presentation of the ball at the breakdown, was paying dividends, as Hamill was able to connect with his runners and Love to keep things rolling forward.
Soon the play switched to the other side of the pitch and following some good exchanges ERGS had a lineout just outside the Dungannon 22. With the ball secured by Aiken, Hamill had a chance to dart down the blindside to make some yards. Holmes managed to pick and go and was supported well by Graham who then made the next carry deep into the home side 22. With a perfect presentation, Hamill was able to release Love who fed his advancing captain Bothwell who with a jink like a leopard and great turn of pace broke the stretched Dungannon defence to score what was a skilful try. Hamill let the kick slide wide. 5-0
At this point in the game ERGS were looking the better team with good continuity, speed and accuracy. However, for the next 10 minutes the play focused heavily with the 22’s with both sides not willing to give an inch to the other. Dungannon, as they had shown at Castle Lane had no fear of the rough stuff and were happily disrupting the ERGS game plan causing a little frustration to the visitors. Both sides were forced into playing a fairly narrow game, something that the ERGS boys prefer not to do and this was beginning to favour Dungannon. The defence from both teams was at times impressive with some super tackles and counter rucking being shown. Bothwell and Courtney were letting nothing past, Love was as tight as a drum and Hamill and Graham were keeping the squeeze on the 10 and managing the fringes well. The backrow of Graham, Seaman and Smyton worked very hard during this spell and Aiken was starting to relish the physical nature of things. Duncan was a solid as a rock making sound carries and tackles with Kerr, Hetherington and Holmes also putting in the graft making hard yards and covering the ground well. However, the frustration started to tell for ERGS as Dungannon continued to disrupt and make life difficult and the referee was having none of it. With a few odd decisions on the interpretation of taking quick penalties, ERGS lost almost 40-50 meters within a very short space of time and this allowed for the start of probably the key phase of play of the whole game.
With Dungannon, now in the ERGS 22 for the first time, they smelt blood and with their tails up after having almost walked up the pitch they put in a good 5 minutes of pummelling at the ERGS line. If there ever was a time when the ERGS boys had to knuckle down, this was it. 2x 5m scrums to Dungannon, 1 Dungannon crossing of the line held up, numerous big hits and ferocious rucking all culminated in a riveting few minutes of rugby. However, the quality and determination of the ERGS boys to defend their line was impressive and with Aiken leading the charge the visitors managed to drive the Dungannon attackers right back to the half way line through pure pressure and resilience. It was a real test of mettle for ERGS and they showed real character in supporting each other to repel a hungry Dungannon side.
The reminder of the half allowed ERGS to get back into more of a pattern, however the halftime whistle came and 2 very evenly matched teams took a well deserved break.
The second half started with Love floating a great kick into the heart of the Dungannon pack. This was chased superbly by the galloping Aiken who wrapped up player and ball and proceeded to drive them into their own 22. This pressure and brilliant support from Bothwell, Graham and Courtney allowed ERGS to turn over the ball and create a good territorial position from which to place the Dungannon boys under some pressure. Working the ball left and right, and with better retention, ERGS were still playing a little more narrow that usual and Dungannon, although working hard to defend, were doing a good job of holding back the ERGS tide of oncoming ball carriers. This was leading to something of a stalemate and it was going to require a little moment of spark to break the deadlock.
As the ball came back left, tight to the touchline at the Dungannon 22, Holmes, Smyton and Kerr had managed to suck in the wide defenders and once again present very well. With everyone out to the right of the ruck, the blindside gap opened for a brief few seconds and with all eyes expecting the ball to once again be released to the open side, Hamill, like a rat up a drainpipe, sneaked through the gap and sprinted up the touchline to score a super ’scrum-half’ try. Love came very close with the tricky kick. 10-0
Having started well in the second half, just like in the first, the ERGS boys then for some reason stepped back 10% and this allowed this very useful Dungannon side back into the game. Once again the game took to the middle third as both sides battled out for physical dominance, desperately looking to create some momentum. However, once again the defences were robust from both sides and all attacking opportunities were quickly snuffed out. For ERGS, Graham, Smyton and Aiken were upping their tackle count and Hamill and Love continued to work almost as extra wing forwards as the game continued down the narrow channels. Eventually the home side managed to gain the upper hand and they pushed the ERGS boys back to their own 22. Working hard on the ground, ERGS managed to turn the ball over and with Kerr setting up nicely, Hamill attempted to relieve some pressure, his box kick was however, charged down and with the momentum in Dungannon’s favour they pressed hard, seeing their opportunity to get on the scoreboard. Despite managing to gather the loose ball ERGS just weren’t sensible or calm enough under the pressure and with a bit of a mix up in communication, they essentially handed the ball back to a Dungannon forward who popped over the line to score. The kicker pushed the kick wide. 10-5.
With 15 or so minutes remaining, fresh legs were released in the form of Nelson for Seaman at 6 and Howe, up from the U13’s for Burns at 15 and Elliott for Harte at 11.
After the score, ERGS once again realised that they were going to have to dig in for their win and to their credit they did that against a Dungannon side who were beginning to tire a little. The ERGS pack started to get more on top and the patterns returned once again. Hamill and Love were having a bit more space to release Bothwell and Courtney, and at last the ERGS wings were having some ball. During the last quarter Carrothers managed to stretch the legs and was unlucky not to break through on 2 occasions, however, once again great defence by Dungannon halted his progress. With the visiting side moving more and more into the dominant position, they began to grow in confidence and soon found themselves with a few more attacking opportunities against what was now becoming a more frustrated home side. With a rare penalty going the way of ERGS, Love this time dished out a bit of return medicine. As alert as ever, he took the quick tap and scythed his way through the retreating Dungannon defence rapidly making ground. A great cover tackle stopped him inside the 22, however, ERGS were there in numbers and Hamill was able to recycle the ball left to the oncoming runners. With their tails up ERGS looked almost certain to score but this time they just rushed things a bit and play eventually broke down as the ball went into touch about 8m from the Dungannon line.
Desperately wanting to put the game to bed, ERGS changed the lineout call and as a result the ever present Smyton collected it at the back. With his ability to turn and accelerate on a sixpence, he did just that and having caught the Dungannon defence by surprise he hot footed it towards the line. Powering through the last ditch tackles he reached out like a stretching pussy cat to touch down for a well taken and deserved try. Hamill slotted the kick to bring the final score to 17-5
So a good start for the boys in 2019 and it was good to have a tough, physical game against an opposition who never gave up and always looked dangerous. It was lovely to be able to invite Alex Howe up from the U13’s and he certainly didn’t look out of place when he came on, well done Alex and thanks to his Dad Mark for the great photos.
In essence the game wasn’t pretty for large chunks of time and there were several moments where it could easily have gone either way, but the ERGS boys buckled down when it was required of them and they ultimately were the better team on the day, with a bit more firepower than their opposition. It was a different style of game than usual and there are many learning opportunities to come from that, which can be worked and expanded on to further equip this talented group of players for future encounters.
There is no doubt that the 5 week break resulted in some game ‘rustiness’ but the boys should be very proud of ‘that 5 mins’ in the first half when then defended their line successfully and with heart. It was a key moment in the game and showed the true spirit of this evolving squad of players.
Next week we are back at Castle Lane to face Sullivan Upper. As always, all support is most welcome, so get the word out to all Aunts, Uncles, Granny’s and Grandad’s!!