|Larne 1st XV
||12 - 13
||Enniskillen 1st XV
Larne 1st XV 12
Enniskillen 1st XV 13
Enniskillen 1st XV jumped to third in the league on Saturday with a hard fought win over Larne, an arduous journey and a saturated playing surface requiring a determined performance from Skins to grind out a result.
The early phases had the home team looking confident as they drilled the ball into the opposition half, with accurate kicks to touch keeping the Enniskillen men pinned back. It was the patience Enniskillen showed in dealing with this onslaught which marked an improvement from recent games; the line out functioning with clinical precision through Cathcart to jumpers Holden and Johnston, allowing Lendrum at out half to clear their lines on each occasion under pressure. The counter attack of the Larne full back was another marked threat presented by the home side but was well dealt with by the Enniskillen defence and the like for like counter attack of the Skins back three of Charlton, Finlay and O’Shea helped the territorial battle. The penalty count for Skins however, continued to be high as in past weeks and presented Larne with a life line throughout, the home side taking the first points in the fixture to go 3-0 up.
The condition of the pitch likely hindered some of the pace in the Enniskillen backs and made it a real battle for territory, but good mauling from the pack off the line out and carries from David Buchanan and Ricky Lee made good ground throughout. The pressure from Skins finally wrought rewards when they collected the ball at the back of the line out just inside the Larne 22 and carried to the line; Nick Finlay at scrum half quickly fed the ball to Stevie Welsh hastily making his way around the corner of the ruck before releasing the backs where Lendrum gave a beautifully weighted pass to Ashley Finlay who evaded defenders to go over in the corner for an excellent try, unconverted to leave the score 5-3.
Enniskillen had their tails up now and quickly made their way back into Larne territory, the under pressure Larne then edging offside at the ruck and giving away a penalty allowing Lendrum to extend the lead to 8-3. Enniskillen absorbed the Larne attack well approaching the end of the first half but couldn’t escape another infringement within kicking distance to give Larne another 3 points, ending the half 8-6.
The second half was much of the same and mainly played in the middle of the pitch as both teams traded blows. The Enniskillen forwards and backs continued to carry well and the centre partnership Wilkinson and Maguire made some good breaks, but some later handling errors approaching the red zone defused attacks on a few occasions. A break finally came for Enniskillen in an unconventional score but one which ultimately represented the industrious attitude of the side on the day. A return kick from well inside the Skins half was ruthlessly pursued by the Enniskillen forwards and prop Gavin Warrington was first up to turn over the receiving Larne fullback, the ball was then shifted wide to Richie Johnston who crossed in the corner while the Larne defence was still working back to intervene, unconverted to extend the lead to 13-6.
Larne to their credit were patient and content to play the long game, working their way back into the Skins half with some precise kicking and eventually forcing another penalty inside the Enniskillen half leaving the score 13-9. Enniskillen were perhaps over eager at the ruck and numerous attempts to turn over ball were deemed illegal by the referee, another penalty shortly afterwards further reducing the deficit to 13-12. Skins, now realising that despite their tenacious defensive efforts they were only leading by a mere point, began to tighten up their discipline and focused on seeing off the contest. The final minutes were tense for Enniskillen while holding off Larne inside their own half but their determined press up in defence eventually forced a knock on to end the contest with a 13-12 victory to Skins.
Coach Norman Richmond seemed happy with the mental fortitude shown during the game and believes it shows positive signs coming into an important stage of the season.
"I was very pleased at the way we approached this game. The attitude amongst the players has been positive from the start of the year, a strong performance against Rainey last week and this game against Larne has reaffirmed to me the players' commitment and hunger to push on now as we enter the second half of the season. The game was difficult on Saturday, "The Glynn" is never an easy place to go and get a result but the players dug in and in dreadful pitch conditions weathered the storm from Larne who were relentless for the 80 minutes. Consistent ball retention was going to be crucial for the winning team and we held out. There was strong performances from the pack; Gavin Warrington and Stevie Welsh maintained the pressure in the front row, Kaine Holden, Davy Buchanan and Ricky Lee all carried well and Richie Johnston continued to harass the Larne back line closing down their attacking threat. Within the backs all had a solid performance both in attack and defence with Matty Maguire particularly effective and dangerous throughout the game.
"We look forward now to Grosvenor this Saturday at home as we need to firstly ensure the win but more importantly look for the bonus point win which will see us closing the gap further on Carrick and Coleraine; this has all the hallmarks of an exciting second half of the season, especially as there appears to be a desire and hunger from a team that had a "blip" in December.”