City of Armagh RFC 12 Banbridge RFC 5 Report by Evan Morton
City of Armagh returned to winning ways in the Energia All Ireland League on Saturday when they won the Ulster derby battle with Banbridge in a tough encounter at the Palace Grounds.
With Banbridge winning comprehensively at Rifle Park before Christmas, the pressure was on the home side to turns things around given their disappointing recent results.
Thankfully the morning’s heavy rain had abated and Banbridge kicked off in dry conditions on a well-drained pitch. The visitors found themselves on the wrong side of the referee’s whistle three times in the opening six minutes and Armagh’s Cormac Fox took a shot at goal but was narrowly wide from 40 metres.
With 8 minutes on the clock, Banbridge had their first line break of the match when Conor Field came off his wing following a lineout on halfway. He kicked ahead but Armagh gathered and managed to clear the danger.
The Banbridge backline were looking sharp but a forward pass in mid field saw Armagh win their first scrum penalty of the match. Fox kicked to touch and Armagh won the lineout to set up a drive into the Banbridge 22. A crossfield kick was secured by Shea O’Brien but Banbridge had the young centre well covered. A penalty advantage however, was being played and Armagh sent the penalty kick into the 22 for a lineout 5 metres out. Inaccuracy from the home side led to a knock on and the scoring chance was lost.
On 15 minutes, Armagh were penalised for crossing and Banbridge now had a chance to set up an attacking lineout on the Armagh 22. The home side made a steal but were then penalised after making ground up to halfway. The first quarter ended with the high penalty count on both sides continuing and neither side able to take advantage of ensuing lineouts.
The Banbridge backline was showing more enterprise and threatened again on 25 minutes but a handling error thwarted their efforts at breaking the deadlock.
With half an hour played, an interception by Banbridge could have proved costly for Armagh, but the referee awarded the home side a penalty and dispatched Banbridge prop, Callum Reid to the sinbin. Armagh kicked the resultant penalty to touch on the Banbridge 22 and this time they were successful in getting good momentum from the lineout maul.
Play moved up to the Banbridge tryline and it looked as if the first score of the game was on the cards. The referee however wasn’t happy with Armagh’s drive to the line and penalised the home side for a double movement.
Banbridge cleared the danger and brought play into Armagh territory. A scrum penalty to the visitors was kicked to touch but the Banbridge lineout had been misfiring and an overthrow was picked up by replacement prop, Peter Lamb who made good yards. Number 8 Neil Faloon then made a trademark burst up the field, making 25 metres before Armagh recycled the ball to the wing where Josh Morton was forced in to touch.
The stop-start first half then came to life when Armagh scored two tries in the space of five minutes just before the interval. From a scrum on the Banbridge 10 metre line, the ball was moved to the right and scrum half, Gerard Treanor put in a grubber kick behind the Banbridge defence. Shea O’Brien won the race to seize possession and touched down at the corner flag for the game’s opening score. Cormac Fox kicked a superb conversion from the touchline and Armagh were ahead 7-0.
A good exit by Armagh from the restart then led to a lineout on halfway. The Banbridge throw was not straight and a scrum penalty to Armagh allowed them to threaten once again before the halftime break.
The lineout ball was secured and the pack drove for the line with hooker Andrew Smyth grounding the ball for the home side’s second try. The conversion was missed but the halftime whistle blew with City of Armagh ahead 12-0.
Armagh started the second half and after some scrappy play, they were able to get a foothold in the Banbridge half. Cormac Fox was kicking well and using the touchline to keep Banbridge pinned back deep in their own territory.
On 56 minutes the visitors knocked on at the lineout and the Armagh front row won another scrum penalty just outside the Banbridge 22. Turning down a possible three points, Fox kicked to the corner looking for another try from the lineout. This time Banbridge turned over Armagh possession so in hindsight the three points would have been more valuable.
The third quarter came to a close with Banbridge coming right back into the game as an attacking force. Their backline was more incisive and made 40 metres to take play up to the Armagh 22. Sustained pressure from the visitors led to two penalties and a lineout 5 metres out had Armagh on the rack.
Ulster’s David O’Connor spurred his side on and when he was interfered with in the air at the lineout, Armagh’s Nigel Simpson received a yellow card. From the next lineout, Banbridge made the extra man count and flanker Ryan Hughes was driven over for an unconverted try with 66 minutes played.
Into the final 10 minutes and the tension suddenly ramped up as Banbridge looked for a late score that potentially could tie the game.
Not for the first time this season, Armagh started to concede silly penalties to put themselves under pressure. Banbridge kicked deep into Armagh’s 22 looking to set up a lineout maul. On the second attempt the ball was knocked on and Armagh had temporarily escaped.
A penalty for dissent let Armagh clear their line but another penalty to Banbridge saw the Co Down side camped again in the Armagh 22. Deep in injury time, Banbridge looked to break through the terrific Armagh defence but couldn’t find a way through. The ball went lose for Simpson to secure and the referee blew for fulltime.
The final scoreline was City of Armagh 12, Banbridge 5 and a dramatic last 10 minutes had kept both sets of supporters on their toes.
The Armagh coaching team were delighted to have secured the victory. Willie Faloon commented: “Banbridge were always going to prove difficult opponents and that was the case today.
“Our set piece was strong setting up the foundation for the win and our defence in that final 10 minutes was outstanding. We now need to build upon this performance as we enter the second set of AIL fixtures.”
Next up for City of Armagh this Saturday is the semi-final of the First Trust Senior Cup, away to Rainey Old Boys in Magherafelt.