After the highs of the last 2 weeks it was on another beautiful, dry morning that the ERGS U14 side took to the pitch full of eager anticipation against keen rivals Armagh Royal.
Having had a visit to play Armagh at the end of last season when there was a close won victory of 17-0, the ERGS lads knew that they would face an opposition who would be happy to bring the game to them upfront and had the ability to run the ball wide.
With a full strength squad, again available and several supporters making the journey, the starting 15 lined out to receive the kick-off ready to face whatever Armagh could throw at them.
Pack leader Smyton called for the kick off, however, uncharacteristically he misfielded the high ball and almost immediately it was the first scrum of the game. With work continuing during the week on the ‘art of the scrummage’, ERGS packed down and firmly held their ground, this was to continue for the rest of the game with the ERGS pack quite comfortable at this set play.
The next 5 minutes, however, were all about Armagh who recycled time and time again within the ERGS 22. This was aided by 5 penalties being conceded in quick succession, all adding to the pressure.
ERGS just couldn’t get hold of the ball, but to a man they were resolute and strong in the tackle and they didn’t give an inch. As has happened in both games so far it was that man Bothwell, captain courageous, who stood up and set the marker along with his fast improving wingman in the centre, Courtney. As Armagh came again, Bothwell and Courtney, who both had a busy game, showed great line speed and simply ‘mushed’ the powerful and dangerous Armagh outside centre. This tackle, which the ERGS pack clearly enjoyed, forced turnover ball and in the matter of 3 seconds, the game changed. With lovely clean ball delivered to him, Hamill, who kicked intelligently all game, got his boot in gear and sent a soaring clearing kick towards the halfway line. This was chased by the hungry Bothwell who won the ball as a result of pure pressure and managed to flick a pass to the steaming Harte on the right wing. With ears pinned back and teeth clenched, Harte took off beating 3 tacklers before being halted. Like a rash, the ERGS backrow were up in support to secure fast ball for Hamill and Love. Play flowed back to the middle of the field where ERGS won a scrum within the Armagh 22.
With heart rates now under control after a pulsating 6 minutes, ERGS safely secured good ball which Smyton, who had his best game of the season, picked from the base of the scrum. Breaking right he bashed and weaved his way through several flailing Armagh defenders before giving a delicate pass to the oncoming Harte, who finished a nice period of controlled play by going over in the corner. The kick just fell short.
The re-start this time was dealt with perfectly and after a few phases of play the ball was securely presented for Hamill at 9. With a well timed and accurate box kick he turned the flat Armagh defence on its heals. A superb chase by his partner Love at 10 then took place and after launching himself at the plummeting ball like a leaping salmon he collected in mid air. After making some hard yards he presented to the rampaging Cannonball Clarke who covered every blade of grass during the game. Clarke at hooker has had a great start to the season, with his improved fitness and positive attitude he has been dynamic in the loose and ferocious in the tackle in every game. The Cannonball brought play to just outside the Armagh 22 where he offloaded to the impressive Courtney who set up a perfect ruck 20 yds from the try line. Quick, training ground ball by Hamill to Love, this time going blind, took the retreating defence by surprise allowing Love space to release the ‘machine gun kid’ (MGK for short), Carrothers who rounded his opposite number to take his first score of the day out wide. Hamill stepped up for the kick, which although well struck sneaked wide.
The next 10 minutes were dominated by the ERGS boys. Now into their stride and firing on all cylinders they were a pleasure to watch. Fast, aggressive and controlled rugby was the name of the game and with Love in the driving seat, playing behind a dominant pack with a set of backs hungry to run hard ERGS soon rattled up another 2 scores.
The support play during the entire game was at times inspiring and the third try highlighted this to perfection. A scrum within the ERGS half provided the platform for another devastating pick and go by Smyton, who skipped his way like a ballerina 40 yards up the pitch. Always with his head up he spotted the noisy Courtney coming at full tilt in support who took play inside the Armagh 22. Having managed to suck in 2 defenders he, like Smyton was aware enough to look for support and it came in the form of ‘Captain Courageous’ who raced the last 20 yards, duking and diving, to score a wonderful try under the posts. Hamill slotted the points.
The last try of the half resulted from some back and forth play between the teams requiring some very hard work by the ERGS ‘tight 5’ to maintain control. It has to be said that the quiet hard work that goes on upfront is often overshadowed by the tries out wide. This game, and in particular this period of the game showed to the keen eye just how important those ‘grafters’ are to the success of any rugby team. The front row of Clarke, Hetherington and Kerr were outstanding all game. Hetherington is a class act, the ‘Engine’ never stops and his tackle count is always to be commended and today his hard work was exemplary. Kerr this season has just got on with his job with a quiet confidence, his fitness and work rate are right up there and his increased physicality has made a huge difference. The ‘big men’ of the second row, Aiken and Monaghan worked incredibly hard today, winning a lot of ball and carrying with some venom and clout.
It was during once such exchange that the ball was leaked from a ruck, this resulted in Armagh gaining momentum and squeezing inside the ERGS 22. After a smashing tackle by the hard wired and hard working Seaman, the Armagh attack was halted, however the ball was spilled towards the ERGS try line. With the pressure on Graham who was covering had to do a bit of nifty thinking to clear the lines. Like all teams, when a ‘7’ gets the ball and looks like he will kick it, ERGS held their breath, however Graham didn’t let the boys down kicked the game back to the 22. Here ‘Mr smash and grab’ Smyton, who was having a storming game, again managed to ‘power rip’ the ball and took off doing another dance towards the half way. From a resultant scrum, he did it again, this time breaking left to feed the ‘MGK’ Carrothers who did what we expected by letting out the clutch and powering his way for another score. Hamill added the extras.
Half Time: 24-0
The second half started, just as the first had ended with Carrothers crossing the line in the corner from the first phase of play after ripping the ball, like candy from a child, from his stunned opposite number. The wide kick was very narrowly missed.
From the restart ERGS pressed Armagh hard causing a few mistakes within their own 22. After scrambling the ball back, Armagh kicked to clear their lines, unfortunately for them the ball feel short of the intended touch line target at half way. Where it landed was not good news for Armagh, as it had landed into the clutches of that try scoring vulture, Carrothers. With quite a bit of work to do, Sam the man, took off and with sidestep after sidestep he ruthlessly moved down the touchline to score a really high quality finish under the posts. A wonderful score from such a talented and humble young man. Hamill added the points.
With only 8 minutes of the half gone, on came Elliott for Carrothers, Magee for Burns at full back and Nelson for Seaman at blindside.
Almost immediately ERGS were back at Armagh wanting to add to their tally. Again secure ball was won by the hardworking pack allowing Hamill and Love to continue to dominate the game. Aiken and Monaghan were beginning to cause more problems in the loose as their size and fitness took full force. Monaghan had a few steaming runs and it was from one of these that the ball was set up in midfield just inside the Armagh half. With the ball secured, Hamill launched another high and well timed kick behind the Armagh defence. Like we have worked at on the training ground, the ERGS midfield were up like a flash and from the resultant pressure Love found himself with the ball. What followed were 4 lovely phases of controlled and forceful rugby. With the defence committed, Hamill spun the ball to Love to his left who looked up to find himself with space. Needing no invitation he beat the final defender to notch up another well deserved try. Love really deserved these 5 points for all his efforts during the game. He is improving with every minute spent on the pitch. Hamill added the points.
The remaining 10 mins of the game were played out with ERGS maintaining their dominance. Armagh did run some ball but good defence from the improving Elliott on the wing thwarted 2 attacks and the continued hard hitting of Courtney and Bothwell kept the dangerous Armagh 13 under control. Elliott also had the opportunity to attack and was unlucky not to get onto the score sheet. Magee was solid at full back and did everything that was asked of him. It was great to see him back after his injury last week and good to see that it hasn’t halted his progress. Nelson filled in well for Seaman at blindside and its great to see what he can add to the game in the loose. A natural ball stealer and tackler he continues to improve this season.
The final few attacks of the game by ERGS seen them unlucky not to add to the scoreboard, Aiken, who was causing lots of problems, was held up twice over the line and the ever dangerous Harte was forced into touch at the corner flag.
Overall another dominant performance by the U14’s who are growing in stature and belief with every game. There were moments of spine tingling rugby during the game with some outstanding individual performances, however the true strength in this squad is their ability to work together, to respect each other and to knuckle down when the going gets tough. These qualities coupled with their incredible dedication makes them a pleasure to work with.
They await greater tests as the season progresses, of that there is no doubt. However, like the coaches, they look to these challenges as being part and parcel of the wonderful opportunity that schools rugby offers them.