City of Armagh RFC 39 St Mary’s College RFC 21
Following their hard-fought victory over Ballymena the previous week, City of Armagh faced a crucial fixture with St Mary’s College at the Palace Grounds to keep in touch with the pacesetters in Division 1B.
In a free flowing game, it was the home team who put in one of their best performances of the season to record a comfortable bonus point victory, running out winners, 39-21.
While Robert Whitten and Andrew Willis remained on the injured list, prop Oisin Kiernan failed a late fitness test and Eoin O’Hagan came onto the bench.
In cool but sunny conditions, Armagh kicked off and the opening exchanges were cagey as both sides looked for a good start.
It was St Mary’s that got the first break after four minutes, when Armagh were going through their phase play in their 22 and a pass was intercepted by scrum half Patrick O’Driscoll who touched down under the posts for out-half,
Dave Flanagan to convert.
Seven nil down was an early setback for Armagh but the home side showed composure to take play into St Mary’s territory.
The visitors were defending well with a good line speed preventing Armagh from gaining much ground. Winger, Shea O’Brien capitalised on a defensive are and made a break but was bundled into touch on the 22.
St Mary’s overthrew their lineout and Armagh had a good attacking opportunity.
A grubber kick by Jonny Pollock led to a 22 dropout and with 15 minutes on the clock, Armagh got on the scoreboard when Chris Cousens converted a penalty.
A minute later, Armagh turned over possession on half way and Timmy McNeice made an incisive break down the right wing.
The full back was tap tackled but managed to offload to the supporting Evin Crummie to cross for Armagh’s opening try. Cousen’s conversion put Armagh ahead 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Two minutes later, St Mary’s regained the lead with a converted try from Dave Flanagan. The outhalf received the ball on Armagh’s 10 metre line and an arcing run wrong-footed the home defence for a great individual score which saw the scoreboard move to 10-14 in favour of St Mary’s.
Armagh returned to the attack, with Philip Fletcher and Paul Mullen carrying well, as play moved into St Marys territory.
With 25 minutes on the clock, flanker James Hanna broke free in St Mary’s 22 and offloaded to Neil Faloon to cross for a try, converted by Cousens.
Leading 17-14, it was Armagh who looked next likely to score with Nigel Simpson making a great break from his own half. Just past the half hour mark, Cousens kicked a penalty to edge the home side further ahead, 20-14 as a heavy rain shower arrived.
With halftime approaching, St Mary’s had an attacking spell following an Armagh knock on but a handling error let the visitors down. The referee then showed a yellow card to second row Liam Curran for a late tackle on the Armagh out-half and the whistle went for the interval with St Mary’s a man down and losing 20-14.
The second half commenced and the home side got off to a dream start with a try in the 42 nd minute. Armagh secured lineout possession 10 metres from the St Mary’s line and the pack drove the maul to the tryline for hooker Jonny Morton to touch down.
Chris Cousens was in fine kicking form and nailed a super conversion from the touchline to stretch Armagh’s lead to 27-14.
St Mary’s responded to this setback by charging down Armagh’s clearance kick following the restart and the Leinster side exerted pressure in the 22 but an important Armagh turnover by Josh McKinley cleared the danger.
The visitors then took a quick tap penalty but another knock on saw them lose momentum.
A penalty to Armagh on halfway saw them build a period of sustained pressure in the St Mary’s half and James Morton was close to scoring.
A deliberate knock on by the visitors in front of their posts saw Armagh kick into the corner.
Another good line-out drive saw St Mary’s defend desperately and when the ball was moved wide, Tim McNeice crossed in the corner for Armagh’s bonus point try. Another touchline conversion from Cousens saw Armagh now leading 34-14 at the end of the third quarter.
St Mary’s restart didn’t go 10 metres and Armagh were able to go back on the offensive. Harry Doyle put a lovely kick into the corner which St Mary’s struggled to deal with.
A scrum penalty did see the visitors clear their line but five minutes later Armagh had another attacking lineout five metres out.
This time the home forwards were penalised for a ‘truck and trailer’ offence and St Mary’s were let off the hook. Anytime St Mary’s made ground up to halfway, they conceded a penalty allowing Armagh to set up attacking positions deep in St Mary’s territory.
On 70 minutes, a crooked throw 5 metres from the St Mary’s line saw another scoring opportunity wasted by the home side. With five minutes remaining, St Mary’s made a rare visit to the Armagh 22 and a clever line-out ploy almost led to a score but great defensive play by Armagh forced a turnover and they cleared the danger.
The visitors were throwing caution to the wind as the match reached the closing stages and a tired defence and missed tackles saw centre Marcus O’Driscoll cross for a converted try.
In the final minute St Mary’s looked to run the ball out of defence but a dropped ball was seized upon by Shea O’Brien and the young winger sprinted in for Armagh’s fifth try of the afternoon.
The full time whistle blew and City of Armagh had won a very entertaining match 39-21.
The result moved the Orchard County side to third place in Division 1B, one point off top place, in what has been a remarkable season to date for the Armagh team, following their promotion last year.
Coach Willie Faloon was pleased with the team’s second successive bonus point win. “I thought our forwards were excellent today. Our set piece was strong and they laid a great platform for our backs to ask questions of the opposition all day.
“We let in a couple of soft scores early on in the match so we still need to cut out our errors.”
Next up for City of Armagh is an away trip to Malone on March 23 following a deserved rest week this Saturday.