|Grosvenor 1st XV
||3 - 10
||Enniskillen 1st XV
GROSVENOR 1st XV 3 ENNISKILLEN 1st XV 10
Enniskillen, who did not had a league match in over eight weeks, have certainly fallen victim to a disjointed fixture programme this season. Indeed, with not having a game at any level for three weeks and as a direct consequence of this enforced break, it has been difficult for Skins coach Norman Richmond to try to maintain the early season momentum and keep the playing squad focused during this extended period without a competitive fixture.
Therefore last Saturday’s trip to Belfast for an eagerly anticipated fixture with Grosvenor, for only their fourth league fixture of the season, albeit mid November, was a welcome return to competitive rugby for Enniskillen.
The Belfast side, now coached by former Skins coach Alistair McKee, were anxious to atone for recent narrow league defeats and maximise their home advantage in front of a large local support.
Skins fielded with several forced changes to their regular line-up, mainly due to injury, welcomed back Mattie Maguire and James Ferguson to the back division.
The game was played in very wet, but calm, conditions and ball control was always going to prove difficult. The home side, having won the toss, opted face the kick-off from the visitors. Grosvenor displayed immediate intent, controlling possession for the opening In the twenty-second minute period, ensuring the game was played the Skin’s half. The Enniskillen defence demonstrated it was well capable of dealing with anything the home side had to offer. Under the conditions their back three of Finley, O’Shea and Ferguson coped comfortably with any aerial assaults on their line. Richard Connor performed competently at scrum half. His ball brisk distribution, from both set piece and loose phases, kept the back line moving forward at every opportunity.
Towards the end of the opening quarter the visitors eventually started to settle, competing much more vigorously for possession, and on several occasions driving deep into Grosvenor territory with a series of well-executed phases. This forced the home side into making several mistakes and as a result conceded a series of penalties at the breakdown.
This period of dominance eventually paid dividends when in the twenty-eight minute Ashley Finley gathered an errant clearance on the half way line and completely outflanked the Grosvenor defence sprinting over forty metres to touch down under the posts for the opening score of the afternoon. Adam Lendrum duly added two points with a successful conversation. This moment of magic would prove to be the only highlight in an otherwise dismal afternoon.
This helped settle Skins and they continued to dictate the proceedings for the remainder of the half. Just before the interval Lendrum added a further three points from a penalty to leave the visitors with a ten-point advantage at the interval.
McKee’s team talk at half time seemed to focus his players, with the increase in intensity of the Grosvenor attack obvious from the start of the second period. The visitor’s defence was resolute in their determination to thwart any Grosvenor assaults on their line.
Skin’s captain Alan Wilkinson, accompanied by Mattie Maguire in the centre, tackled tirelessly throughout the game.
Enniskillen did drive the opposition pack over their own line within ten minutes of the restart, having peeled from a five metre line-out. However the referee adjudged the ball has not been properly grounded and no try was awarded. This was the closest either side would come to registering a try during the second half.
At this stage neither side managed to dominate proceedings. Enniskillen continued to impose their presence at scrum time and Grosvenor contested vigorously at the lineouts. Most of the second half play centred in the middle third of the pitch. Grosvenor’s discipline continued to let them down, constantly giving away penalties at the breakdown. Eventually, with considerable assistance from the travelling supporters, the referee yellow carded one of their back row forwards. Enniskillen were unable to avail of their numerical advantage. The weather conditions played a more prominent role in events as the afternoon wore on. Any attempt at running the ball wide by the visitors was immediately thwarted by a resolute Grosvenor defence. Mid way through the second half panic started to creep into the Skin’s play, gifting the opposition several unnecessary turn-overs. Although their discipline had been good up to this point they managed to needlessly give away two kickable penalties in quick succession. The first attempt at goal came off the post, but the home side kicker found his range with his second effort to leave potentially one score between the sides.
Any thoughts the may have existed regarding the outcome of the game were very quickly allayed. Grosvenor, were in no mood to submit just yet. Knowing they had to up their efforts if they had any chance of a securing anything from the game they started to run at the visitors defence with a newfound purpose for the closing ten minutes. From the restart they controlled possession, and drove deep into the Enniskillen half with a series of well-executed rucks.
They enjoyed a period of dominance for the remainder of the game building phases and protecting possession, but just lacked the cutting edge necessary to penetrate the Enniskillen defence. The back row of Jamie Johnston, Richard Lee and Ritchie Johnston excelled in the loose throughout. They were effectively supported by the efforts of the second row partnership of David Buchannon and Ritchie Grey.
Although the lay-off had an effect on the sharpness of Enniskillen’s performance, they did demonstrate what they are capable of when they play focused rugby.
This game proved that at this level total concentration and control for the full eighty minutes is required if they are to compete for honours.
The focus of attention now moves to next week’s home fixture against Larne, where a victory would almost certainly help Skins establish a level of momentum required to push on for the rest of the season.