It was a much changed City of Armagh side that finished their AIL programme with a comprehensive defeat against an Old Wesley side who were pressing for promotion to Division 1A.
Armagh with one eye on the Bateman cup Final next Saturday rested several players including Andrew Smyth, Phil Fletcher and James Hanna in the forwards while James Morton was injured.
Also absent were Cormac Fox, Chris Colvin and Shea O’Brien in the backs. Johnny Morton returned from injury at hooker with Peter Lamb on the bench and Daryl Morton coming back into the starting line up.
Harry Boyd made a welcome return to 1st XV rugby for his first match since early December as did Ryan Purvis, injured during the Senior cup final in February.
Old Wesley kicked off in firm conditions with a stiff eastern breeze behind them. Armagh gathered and put some nice plays together until a knock on allowed them to attack . Needing to score four tries, Wesley opted for the scrum and put instant pressure on the Armagh eight.
Their number 8 Mark Rowley made a drive for the line but knocked the ball on when it was probably easier to score.
Not to be denied, they continued to press and with referee Leo McColgan standing for no nonsense at the breakdown, Armagh were penalised a couple of times and full back Stynes put them ahead 3-0 with a simple penalty.
Further misfortune hit Armagh when Daryl Morton, saving a certain try was injured and took no further part in the game.
This meant that the other two Armagh props had to put in 70 minutes of rugby and although under pressure
in the scrums, both Mullen and Kiernan carried well.
In fact Armagh’s game plan worked well and they took the game to Wesley at every opportunity. They continued to annoy the referee with simple penalties being given and it was disappointing that from a five metre scrum the referee gave a penalty try at the first time the scrum went down.
Ten points down then after 23 minutes, it looked like it was going to be a long day but to their credit the visitors continued to play attractive rugby into the wind.
It was little surprise then that Ryan Purvis stroked over a penalty to reduce the scores to 10-3. Just before the interval, the direction of the game crucially changed.
With the Wesley hooker in the sin-bin Armagh went for a penalty to the corner and having secured the line-out through Josh McKinley, they went for a drive towards the corner. Somehow the Wesley number 5, McGann managed to squirm through the maul and disrupt Armagh’s drive. The chance was lost and the referee blew
for half time.
Half time Old Wesley 10 City of Armagh 3
Despite putting up such a good performance in the first half, Armagh couldn’t get moving in the second half and two early yellow cards had them playing for eight minutes with 13 men. Wesley went for the jugular and after a collapsed scrum Armagh expected another scrum.
The Armagh boys lost concentration and a quick tap penalty enabled flanker Conor Barry to dive over close to the posts.
Armagh were now down 17-3 but credit to them, they continued to press. It was Armagh’s turn to put pressure on the Wesley tryline.
Despite the fact that they had two collapsed five-metre scrums you would have expected consistency from the referee, but he asked them to reset for a third time. This time Armagh’s scrum buckled slightly but the referee played on and Robbie Whitten barged over for a converted try by Purvis.
At 17-10 game Armagh were back in the game but couldn’t break down a stubborn home defence.
Armagh had a promising attack on 60 minutes but unfortunately Mullen was isolated, lost the ball and Wesley counter attacked to score another converted try.
Wesley kept up the pressure and could have scored a fourth try but holding on in the tackle gave Armagh respite.
As happened last week, Armagh missed touch with a penalty and Wesley were able to get back into Armagh
McNiece was sin-binned for tackling the man off the ball and again Armagh were down in numbers. Stephen Morton followed him shortly afterwards to make it 4 yellows in one half.
At the death, Wesley scored another converted try to give them the five points and allow them to finish
second in the league and a play off for promotion.
Coach Willie Faloon got his team and reserves together in the changing room after the match and complimented on their commitment and season so far.
Division 1B is the highest level Armagh have ever played at and with a small playing squad, they have exceeded all expectations by securing their place again for next season.
They have raised their game on many occasions and next week they have a chance to make history when they play in the All Ireland Cup Final against Garryowen.
Coaches will be expecting a big effort in training next week. To get to the final again by winning the Senior cup for a second time has been tremendous, but can Armagh upset the odds and beat a side playing in the highest grade of rugby?
Willie and Chris Parker will be preparing the side well and it would be great if a big Armagh crowd could get behind this young courageous side.
There will be hard decisions to make in selection and some of the players are bound to be disappointed.
Kick off for the final is 12.30pm at Templeville Road, home of St Mary’s RFC and the match will be televised live by RTE.