The final game of Banbridge’s three-match preparation for the All-Ireland League ended in defeat to Ballynahinch at Ballymacarn Park.
Despite the loss, Bann coach Daniel Soper was ‘pretty pleased’ with his team’s performance. “I thought we played a lot of good rugby, scored three good tries and just failed to finish off another couple of chances,” he said.
“We were up against a side who play two Divisions above us in the AIL and they had six professional or Ulster Academy players in their forward pack. We matched them and stuck with their strength, which is evidence of the gym work paying off.
“I thought (flanker) Ethan Harbinson did very well in the 15 minutes he was on the pitch. He was magnificent over the ball and won us two or three penalties in that short time. But he’ll probably be involved with the Ulster U-20s in Connacht next weekend.”
Bann kicked off the scoring in the eighth minute of Saturday’s friendly, with Adam Ervine finishing off from five metres out after centre Jonny Little had cut through a gap in Hinch’s midfield defence outside the home 22.
‘Hinch squandered a chance two minutes later but as they maintained the pressure they created an overlap to put Aaron Cairns in behind the posts, with out-half Justin Rea adding the straightforward conversion.
Bann regained the lead on 16 minutes through hooker Peter Cromie’s well-worked try, Adam Doherty’s conversion taking the score to 7-12. And the visitors should have gone further ahead after Little again sliced through to make 35 metres before off-loading to Andrew Morrison.
He was hauled down a metre short of the line but the support arrived too slowly and Morrison was penalised for holding on after the tackle.
The home pack used their forward strength to put David McIlwaine in for their second try after driving a maul over the line following a five-metre lineout, with Rea’s conversion giving his side a two point lead with 36 minutes played.
‘Hinch spurned a very kickable penalty chance to opt for a scrum close to the opposition posts but when the ball shot out uncontrolled Bann flanker Richard Graham gathered to feed Ervine who made good ground before chipping deep inside the home 22.
But the cover defence came across to gather and the kick to touch marked the end of the half.
Bann started strongly after the interval but a wayward pass denied Ervine another scoring opportunity before Little stepped inside the defence on the blind side of a ruck to make the try line from 10 metres out, with Doherty adding the points off the tee for a 14-19 lead on 48 minutes.
Five minutes later ‘Hinch went ahead, with No 8 James Simpson controlling the ball at the base of his superior scrum to touch down, with Chris Quinn converting. They should have repeated the trick ten minutes later but the referee came to Bann’s rescue as he penalised the attackers.
But when Bann were penalised five minutes before the end, the five-metre lineout initiated another attack, with McIlwaine finishing off after the Bann defence had been stretched to breaking point.