Enniskillen Royal vs Omagh Academy
Schools Trophy Quarter-final
18 February 2017
After two closely contested friendlies between the two sides over the last year this match for a place in the Trophy Semi-final was something of a decider.
Enniskillen had to play without their injured no. 8, Jack Rutledge and were also obliged to put their captain, Andrew Crawford, on the bench due to unresolved shoulder damage. They didn’t help their cause when they began the match by giving away two consecutive penalties which placed Omagh in a strong attacking position. The visitors were quick to take advantage when their out-half sold a dummy before releasing his inside centre to score under the posts. The try was converted and the score read 0-7 with only 6 minutes gone.
Despite this, the hosts worked hard around the rucks and mauls to gain the upper hand and soon claimed a greater share of possession. Unfortunately, there was a lack of accuracy in their play when they had the ball; kicks that went straight to touch, balls that were knocked on and passes that were missed. These errors, combined with a lineout that, unusually, failed to function led to their only reward being 3 points from a Reece Smyton penalty.
In the latter part of the first half their play improved considerably. The pack continued to win good ball which scrum-half, Matthew Dane, distributed quickly to get the back line moving with much greater fluency. Omagh, to their credit, maintained an excellent defence and closed off a number of very promising attacks.
The home side continued to dominate in the second half. Jack Wilson, at tight-head prop caused havoc with the Omagh set scrums while the seeming tireless flanker, Morgan Bruce, managed to find time to both carry the ball successfully and to harass the Omagh back line. However, before they could convert their superiority into scores their fortunes changed. Andrew Crawford, who had come on at half time, stretched out to grab the sidestepping Omagh no. 8 which the referee adjudged not only to be a high tackle worthy of a penalty but also, surprisingly, a yellow card. On such fine margins are matches often decided.
Enniskillen managed well during his 10 minute absence but the period was marred by a number of scuffles between the teams as tensions started to mount. After one such fracas the referee awarded another yellow card against Enniskillen when he decided that what appeared to have been Reece Barrett tripping over an Omagh player had, in fact, been a stamp. He also decided not to punish the two Omagh players for their retaliation in throwing Barrett to the ground.
Misfortune continued for the Fermanagh side when the opposition full back intercepted a pass between the Enniskillen centres and brought play down to the Enniskillen try line. Omagh made use of their most effective weapon, the “pick and go”, to force their way over the line for a converted try and a score line of 3 points to 14. With only five or six minutes left to play it seemed the game was up, but there was more drama to come.
With Barrett back on the pitch the home team made a last effort to save their pride, if not the match. Dylan Crawford, at full back, turned Omagh’s relieving kicks into some exciting attacks and Dane box kicked with great accuracy to keep Omagh pinned inside their 22m line. One such kick was well chased by out-half Smyton who, on retrieving the ball and perhaps heading for a try, was the victim of a high tackle. When the ball went loose it was picked up by an Omagh player who was subsequently bundled into touch by two Enniskillen players, albeit, just after the whistle had gone for the high tackle. The Omagh player took exception, rushed back at the Enniskillen tacklers and set off another scuffle. Unfortunately this one escalated into a bit of a free for all. Enniskillen came out on the wrong side once again with a gash to the forehead of Wilson and a red card for the unfortunate Barrett. There was no sanction for the Omagh player who started the melee but at least Enniskillen kept the penalty for the high tackle. They played a “tap and go” and from the ensuing ruck Dane sniped around the blind side to score in the corner. Smyton put in a magnificent kick to convert from the touch line and the game was brought to a close with a final score of 10 points to 14 in favour of Omagh Academy.
Apart from some minor fixtures this brings to a close the first season for the senior players at the new Enniskillen Royal and although they didn’t win any silverware this year the coaching team will be content with the continuing improvement in the school’s rugby, especially given the young age of the squad. However, the loss of some key Year 14 players may be hard to make up next season. Dylan Crawford, at full back, has been solid in defence and exciting in attack. In the Omagh game Jack Wilson showed what a strong and skilled tight-head can do to wreck an opposition set scrum. Matthew Dane at scrum-half and flanker Morgan Bruce have provided great energy, accuracy and commitment, key factors in ERGS many wins this year. Other players have contributed greatly to the squad and will also be missed next year, players like Jordan Thompson and Connor Blackwell-Smyth, however, the greatest loss will undoubtedly be this season’s captain of rugby, Andrew ‘Tufty’ Crawford. His leadership as captain as well as his performances on the field have been inspirational throughout the entire season.