Holders Ballynahinch are still on target to complete a hat-trick of First Trust Senior Cup wins after comfortably disposing of the challenge of local rivals Banbridge 32-5 in Saturday’s semi-final.
It was hardly surprising, given the clash of dates with the Ireland – New Zealand International in Dublin, that both sides were well below full strength. And with Bann’s front-line coaching staff also at the Aviva, it was left to Assistant Coach Rob Logan to summarize the home side’s performance.
“Yes, the result was disappointing,” he admitted after the game. “Unfortunately we let Ballynahinch get the upper hand a wee bit in the first half, we weren’t chopping that first-up carrier off the ruck, they were able to get behind us and that was when they got their tails up.
“But there were a lot of positives in there too. I was still pleased with many aspects of our game today. There’s been a question mark over our lineout and scrum over the last few weeks but I think the boys fronted up very well today. We were on top all of the second half scrum-wise and the lineout functioned well.”
The visitors had all the early territory and Chris Quinn’s 10th minute penalty was followed by a penalty try midway through the half after a well-controlled driving maul had been illegally halted just short of the try line. Quinn added the straightforward conversion and further stretched his side’s lead to 13 points with a 33rd minute penalty.
Opportunities to build an attacking platform were wasted as Bann sent three kicks directly to touch, putting themselves immediately under pressure again.
However, the home side eventually battled their way back into the game and a promising backline move saw Jonny Little hauled down a metre short of the try line. They gave themselves hope of a fightback when centre Andrew Morrison took advantage of a turnover just inside the Hinch half to sprint home for a try out wide on the stroke of half-time.
That 5-13 interval scoreline took on a more challenging complexion for Bann immediately from the re-start when Hinch full-back Stephen McAuley took advantage of a kindly bounce off a hack through to put out-half James McBriar in for a try which Quinn bettered off the tee.
“That score was key,” said Logan. “We’d just fought our way back into the game with that try just before half-time. We really needed to score next but they got that second try and made it very difficult for us to come back from.”
Now three scores behind, Bann were facing an uphill battle. Robin Thompson’s penalty effort re-bounded off an upright and Morrison and scrum-half Adam Ervine continued to test the Hinch defence. But it was the visitors who were much more clinical in execution, with Willie Stewart’s 64th minute try off a clear overlap, again converted by Quinn, effectively putting the game out of reach.
Replacement hooker Andrew Harpur touched down under the home posts three minutes later but the referee called play back after two players had clashed heads in the build-up. But as Hinch maintained their presence in the home 22, the seemingly inevitable fourth try followed courtesy of No 8 Lorcan Dow’s touchdown in the corner after a concerted forward drive.
Logan lamented those missed kicks which would have put the opposition under pressure in the first half. “We missed those kicks to touch, that would have given us a platform to play off but that was the theme of the day. They executed their plays a lot more efficiently and accurately than we did and that was ultimately the difference between the sides.”