Enniskillen Royal departed the 2ndXV Schools Cup at Wallace High School, going down 31 points to 17. It was a cracker of a match and ERGS played their full part, leading for large portions of the game. The score belies a very tight game which turned on two key moments.
Enniskillen opened the scoring when right wing, Curtis Coalter, who had the full measure of his opposite number, finally left him stranded before sidestepping the full back to score in the corner. It was a great piece of wing three quarter finishing. Wallace, ranked 2nd in Ulster schools and on their home ground were favourites to prevail. With four very powerful ball carriers in their pack they ground their way down to the Enniskillen line and barged over under the posts. Their out-half made easy work of the conversion and they went into the lead 7 points to 5.
Enniskillen pressed again through forward pods, well executed back moves and accurate kicking from out-half George Foster. Albert Gauley, at number 8, was hugely effective from the base of both rucks and scums and he was well supported by flankers Tom Pendry and William Dowson.
Unfortunately for Enniskillen the first of those key moments was to see out-half Foster carried off with a damaged ankle. This was a double blow to the visitors. Not only had they lost an accurate kicker and calm distributor but their dynamic wing, Coalter, had to move into the centre partnership where he had less space in which to make breaks. Having said that, Angus Fraser, who moved in from first centre, made great decisions, passed well and showed a skill, unknown until now, with the boot.
While the back line was reorganising itself, the forwards were busy dominating their larger opponents. The front row of Matthew Graham, John Fitzpatrick and Andrew Humphreys were in top form. They pushed Wallace back at every scrum and took two against the head. In the line-outs the slim figures of Matthew Wilson and Henry Keys secured every one of their own balls and even managed a couple of steals. The Enniskillen tackling was a major contributor to their success. It was gratifying to see them put in hard, low tackles on big men. Centre, Thom Morton and wing, Jason Bothwell, were exemplary in this regard.
The second half continued with both sides struggling to gain the upper hand. A change of tactics by the visitors, when they adopted a “pick and go” strategy, seemed to catch their opponents off guard. Enniskillen captain, Tom Pendry, led the way and every member of the visitor’s pack latched on to the opportunity which finished with Andrew Humphreys blasting out of a maul to force his way over the Wallace line. Fraser converted and ERGS went back into the lead, 12 points to 7.
Wallace were stung into action. They made determined efforts to hold onto the ball and made good ground through their big ball carriers. A quick switch of direction in the middle of the park caught the visitors off guard and they outflanked the Enniskillen backs to score in the corner. Their out-half made it two kicks out of two with a conversion from the touch line and Wallace regained the lead.
Play see-sawed up and down the pitch until Coalter broke through again and raced away to score in the corner. A valiant attempt at the conversion by Fraser shaved the outside of the posts but ERGS were back in front. It was now Wallace’s turn to change tactics. They had an excellent kicker in their out-half and he repeatedly punched the ball deep into the Enniskillen half where a tiring back line, pummelled in the continual tackling of Wallace’s heavy ball carriers, struggled to get the ball to safety. Eventually Wallace made their weight count and their strong outside centre went over in the corner. Their out-half, ever consistent, put in a wonderful kick to add two points and give Wallace a 7 point lead.
Enniskillen replaced some of those tired limbs and the subs brought fresh impetus to the attack. The pack worked their way down to the Wallace line and made drive after drive to get across for a try. It was at this point that the second key moment occurred. An Enniskillen player had been stopped in a drive, just inches short of the line. Slightly isolated, he struggled to present the ball and the Wallace forwards saw the opportunity for a counter ruck. They drove, en masse, over the top of the player, going off their feet in doing so. The referee had the choice of a penalty against Enniskillen for playing the ball on the ground or a penalty against Wallace for going off their feet. Unfortunately for Enniskillen he chose the former and Wallace escaped. This near miss seemed to give Wallace new energy and with the help of accurate kicking from their out-half they went back up to the Enniskillen 22m line. Enniskillen were out on their feet and unable to withstand a sustained attack from Wallace who extended their lead with another converted try. The Wallace out-half, with a long range penalty kick, put the game beyond Enniskillen and the Cup match finished 31 points to 17.
It was a very entertaining match played in a great competitive spirit. Pendry, and his entire squad, can be justifiably proud of their performance on the day and their achievements throughout this season. They must now pick themselves up, patch the wounds and meet old rivals Dungannon Royal at the weekend.
Try scorers:- Curtis Coalter (2) , Andrew Humphreys.
Conversions:- Angus Fraser.