The ERGS U14 had an enormously successful run in the annual Royal Belfast Academical Institute tournament on Saturday 4th of March. With total playing time for that age group limited to 70 minutes game time per day each tournament match was limited to 12 minutes play in one direction. The Enniskillen team demonstrated their class and quality by winning their group and progressing all the way to the cup final which they lost to Campbell College Belfast. This is a massive achievement for the team and will give them valuable experience for key matches in the remainder of this season and the Medallion cup next year.
The tournament started with the clinical 22-0 dispatch of the Belfast Royal Academy U14 side. Captain Callum Smyton led by example and carried the ball again and again over the game line with tremendous support from Henry Keys and all in the forward pack. The front row of Matthew Graham, Ryan Phair and Justin White dominated the scrum and allowed Matthew Bothwell to distribute quickly and cleanly to the back line. Sam Balfour, Stephen Balfour and Sam Milligan all showed their class in their respective positions and it was good to see the team score so many points in such short a time. They would be more valuable than they could imagine as the tournament ran its course.
The next two teams to succumb to the cohesive play of the Enniskillen team were Killicomaine Junior High School and the Wesley College, Dublin. Andrew Patton in at scrum half for the Killicomaine game helped the team scored 14 points with no reply. Jason Bothwell, Hugo Graham and Adam Sanderson all played intelligently in spells on the wings and fed off Taine Haire’s unselfish play at 13. John Elliot, Henry Hutchinson and Ben Davis brought experience and enthusiasm to the pack.
Wesley College proved themselves to be a tough Dublin side and Enniskillen found it hard to convert possession to points. David Stinson, Zak Havers and Matthew Wilson worked tirelessly all over the field in both defence and attack but with 1 minute to go the game was heading to a no score draw. It took Callum Smyton with the ball in hand and two to beat for a try to separate the two sides. Eddie Keys successfully converted the try to make it 7 – 0.
A huge Ballymena Academy team was the remaining pool game. Enniskillen failed to convert early pressure to points and Ballymena took advantage of a penalty to kick out of their half. A huge running mall from a lineout carried them up to the Enniskillen 22m line. Matthew Beatty helped to halt its progress and Enniskillen defended under huge pressure in the dying moments of the game.
With the group won Enniskillen faced hosts R.B.A.I. in the semi-final of the cup. Having beaten RBAI 26-0 earlier in the season there may have been some over confidence in the outcome prior to the match starting. This was all dismissed after the opening phase of play though. This was tournament rugby.
Both teams had expended massive amounts of energy securing group wins. ERGS attacked well for the first 5 minutes of play but the R.B.A.I. defence held firm. ERGS then had to defend for a squeaky 5 minutes as RBAI attacked their try line. The final whistle blew with the no points scored by either team and so it was a surprise to see R.B.A.I. celebrate as if they had won. Upon enquiry the RBAI coach happily informed the Enniskillen coaching staff that they had scored more points than ERGS in the group stage. This however was a decision that ERGS overturned because the BRA score of 22-0 had been reported as 10-0. The outcome of the match went to a coin toss that Callum Smyton won (having lost all 5 coin tosses so far that morning).
Campbell College had beaten Methody College in the other semi-final and went on to beat ERGS in the final. The first try came from a training ground move called in from the touch line by the coach. The Campbell backs loaded the open side before a scrum and then switched once the ball was in play. The Enniskillen blindside defence was isolated and couldn’t stop the Campbell out half and flankers running through for the first try. Enniskillen applied pressure and played a good few minutes of rugby on the Campbell College try line. Campbell College managed to turn the ball over though, break the Enniskillen defensive line and sprint for the try. Sam Balfour chased, caught and made a heroic tackle. The Enniskillen team got back and defended again but the momentum had shifted and Campbell slipped through for a second and conclusive try.
It was a fantastic day out for all involved. There was no prize for placing second in Northern Ireland but the team should recognise it for the huge achievement that it is, learn from it and move on in the hope of claiming the larger prize available next season.