Enniskillen Royal v Armagh Royal
Schools Cup Round 4
4 February 2017
The young Fermanagh side had set their target for this season at a place in the quarter-finals in the Danske Bank Schools Cup and had to overcome Armagh Royal at home to reach their goal. The visitors, coached by Ulster flanker Willie Faloon, have been on a good run recently, winning four out of their last five games and they started with all the confidence that that brings. Enniskillen, on the other hand, were slow to get into the right mind set.
Armagh held onto the ball from the kick-off and drove up the pitch through their forwards before outflanking Enniskillen on the wing to make their way down to the try line. Prop, Matthew Killic, picked the ball from the back of the ruck that formed and dived at the line for the opening score. Out-half, Glen Faloon, missed the conversion. The home side kept possession for the next few minutes and although they managed to keep Armagh in their own half they failed to make any headway against a defence that was very quickly off their line. Armagh eventually isolated an Enniskillen attack and were awarded a relieving penalty which took play down field. From a set scrum the visitors took one against the head and, once again, ran the ball outside a narrow Enniskillen defence for winger, Nicholas Jennings, to score in the corner. The conversion was missed and the score stood at 10-0.
While Enniskillen had to resort to kicking to make any progress, their opposition were keeping the ball in hand and making good line breaks through their centres. It was, however, their no.8 Ryan O’Neill, who made the most telling intrusion when he broke through a stretched defence and ran around behind the posts for a converted try. Armagh’s backs continued to prove too strong for the home defence which either came up too slowly as a unit or sent individuals racing up, only to be sidestepped. The result was another try scoring break by Armagh just before half time. On this occasion it came through their outside centre, Zac Thompson. Faloon converted to leave the score at the interval a rather sobering 24 points to 0 in favour of Armagh.
Harsh words were spoken during the Enniskillen team talk. Head coach, Rhys Botha, let his players know that this performance was well below the standard they had been setting all season to date and, to their credit, the team responded well in the second half. They played with more aggression, were quicker off the line and carried with more authority. They succeeded in putting real pressure on the visitors who were not nearly so successful with the ball in hand and had, themselves, to resort to kicking. Despite losing their talismanic captain, Andrew Crawford, to a recurring shoulder injury the home side forced their way, through dint of hard graft, powerful carries and a harassing defence, into Armagh’s half where they remained for most of the second half. Jack Rutledge, Reece Barrett and Morgan Bruce were at the forefront of many assaults by the pack while backs Dylan Crawford, Angus Keys and Ewan Haire attacked at every opportunity. The play of scrum-half, Matthew Dane, was crucial to this forward momentum. During the first half he had been putting in accurate box kicks and grubbers in an attempt to move Enniskillen up the pitch but was now able to distribute fast and accurate ball to both forwards and backs.
For a long period Enniskillen pounded the Armagh try line through their re-energised pack but were unable to make that final push. However, they eventually managed to engage enough opposition players in defending their attacks to make space for the backs to spin the ball wide to Ewan Haire who went over in the corner. Out-half, Reece Smyton, missed the conversion from the touch line by the narrowest of margins.
From the re-start Crawford produced a neat chip and chase to move play downfield where excellent distribution by Smyton put Enniskillen back inside the Armagh 5 metre line.
Over the final period of the match the Fermanagh side continued to try and force another breakthrough. Barrett, Bruce, and replacement locks Chris Balfour and Kyle Hobson were all stopped agonisingly short of the line and at the final whistle the score remained at 24-5 to Armagh. Enniskillen now move to the Shield where they face Omagh Academy on the 18th February. During the next two weeks they will, no doubt, reflect on what might have been. It is a matter for conjecture as to whether the result would have been different had they played in the first half as they did in the second or had they not given away 11 penalties to Armagh’s 4, what is less in doubt is that with that second half performance they brought a great deal of respectability back to their game. They can be justifiably proud of that.