RUGBY: Derby win puts Bann back on top

Andrew Magrath in action for Banbridge on Saturday. Photo by Freddie Parkinson / Press Eye
Andrew Magrath in action for Banbridge on Saturday. Photo by Freddie Parkinson / Press Eye

With three of the five Ulster Bank AIL Division 2A games postponed last Saturday, this 27-0 bonus-point win over Belfast Harlequins saw Banbridge go back to the top of the league.

They’re now one point ahead of Cork side Highfield, who have a game in hand.

Jonny Little drives forward for Bann.  Photo by Freddie Parkinson / Press Eye

Jonny Little drives forward for Bann. Photo by Freddie Parkinson / Press Eye

The win might have been expected, given the relative positions of the sides going into the game, but as Bann coach Daniel Soper pointed out afterwards, his charges had to work hard for the points against a team seemingly doomed to relegation.

“There was a lot of talk going into the game about Harlequins’ plight and you’d have thought that we just had to turn up to get the points,” he said.

“But Harlequins are a better side than that and they made us work pretty hard out there. Maybe we tried to play too much rugby from deep but the endeavour and the right attitude to be positive with the ball was there and we got the bonus point which was pretty important in the bigger scheme of things.”

Certainly Harlequins had the lion’s share of possession in the opening half hour as a misfiring lineout and inability to hold onto passes meant that Bann were unable to cross the home 22 line during that time. Then centre Johnny Little broke through the Quins’ midfield defence to take play within striking distance.

Adam Ervine in action. Pic: Presseye

Adam Ervine in action. Pic: Presseye

The recycled ball went through the hands of Andrew Magrath and Chris Allen before Stephen Irvine drew the last defender to put full-back Adam Ervine in for the opening score.

Bann had doubled their tally within two minutes, with Allen’s charge-down of an attempted clearance kick allowing Magrath to pick up and feed Colin Bickerstaff who finished off a second unconverted try.

Good carries by replacement flanker Richard Graham and hooker Peter Cromie took play deep into Quins’ territory 15 minutes into the second half and left winger Simon Lloyd used Ervine’s decoy run to dummy the defence and cross for the third try.

On the hour, Andrew Morrison’s pass put Ervine in space 35 metres out and the Bann skipper evaded three attempted tackles in a sprint to the try line, with Magrath finally finding the target off the tee.

Flanker Ryan Hughes had carried well all afternoon and he rounded off the scoring on 69 minutes, picking up a Quins knock-on and twisting over the line for the fifth try.

Soper was pleased with several aspects of his team’s display: “In attack we kept a good shape and turned a bit of ball over at the breakdown and although we were a bit flat at the end you could see our resolution to keep a clean sheet so I’m pretty happy. I was pleased with how our replacements performed. Richie Graham came on for Robin (Sinton) and did really well, Ben Carson showed some nice touches when he replaced Johnny (Little) in the centre and Mike Bentley made a decent impact off the bench.

“Ryan Hughes has missed a lot of games through injury but he’s started to get a run of matches now and he did really well.

“We had a couple of promising moves from deep early in the first half but the ball didn’t stick and so it was good to see those first two scores coming.

“That win puts us top of the league, maybe by default, but it puts a bit of pressure on the chasing teams – they may have a game in hand but it’s a game they have to win now.

“There are certainly areas of our game where we’ll need to improve for next week’s match – Malone will undoubtedly present a much bigger challenge. They have won six or seven in a row so we’re going to have to be at our best come Saturday. They’re going really well with a lot of quality players so we’re going to have to on top of our game.”