|Enniskillen 1st XV
||14 - 7
||Carrickfergus 1st XV
Enniskillen 1st XV 14
Coleraine 1st XV 7
Enniskillen 1st XV backed up a bonus point win last Saturday against Academy with a crucial, narrow win against 2nd placed league side Coleraine on Tuesday night. In Coleraine’s last game of the season, and with Skins in 3rd and still two more games to play, Coleraine knew a win would secure them a runner up spot and consequently a play off fixture for promotion, while defeat would give Skins a shot at reprisal in the coming weeks and a chance to return to Qualifying One rugby for first time in many years.
The importance of the fixture was evident from the start as Coleraine started hard and seemed to overwhelm the home side, looking extremely dangerous and shifting the ball liberally. This enterprising play from the visitors wrought rewards early on as the Coleraine inside centre broke through the line and shrugged off some soft tackling from the home side to score under the posts, converted to go 7-0 up.
Coleraine continued to take advantage of a shellshocked Skins and soon had the home side pinned back in their half once again, requiring some desperate cover tackling from James Ferguson and Jack Harte to keep the visitors out. Under pressure Enniskillen gave away a penalty within kicking distance but the kick didn’t find it’s mark and this gave the home side some respite and a chance to clear their lines.
Having survived this onslaught Skins settled into the game more confidently now and played for territory more effectively. Some good carrying from the forwards forced a penalty and Adam Lendrum used the boot to put Enniskillen deep into the Coleraine half. An attempted maul from the line out broke down and a scrum was awarded, where the home front row of Gavin Warrington, Ryan Cathcart and Gareth Beatty were clearly in the ascendency, driving Coleraine back towards their own try line and almost crossing twice off the back of the scrum, with Jamie Johnston just held up over the line. The referee’s patience began to wane as Coleraine attempted to collapse the scrum while under pressure and he eventually awarded the penalty try to the Skins, converted to bring the game level at 7-7.
Skins looked more confident now and made their way back towards the try line once again with a well worked maul off Jack Harte, but an unexpected turn over had Coleraine breaking down the wing back into the Enniskillen half. Some desperate tracking back in defence stopped the Coleraine break but still resulted in a penalty, which fortunately for the home side was sent wide of the uprights and ended the half 7-7.
The second half started much the same with an excruciating arm wrestle of a contest. Coleraine continued to shift the ball well and asked a massive effort from Skins as they were forced to work tirelessly around the edge of the ruck to keep up with the pacy Coleraine back line. Enniskillen eventually forced a penalty from the visitors and set up a line out on the 22 metre line, after a surging drive from the forwards and a few close quarter carries from Warrington and Ricky Lee, Ashley Finlay picked and darted around the edge of the ruck for a fine finish in the corner to put the home side a try up, converted spectacularly by Lendrum to increase the lead to 14-7.
This seemed to only spur Coleraine on as they made a break back into the Enniskillen half and started to attack relentlessly inside the Enniskillen 22 metre line. The defensive effort from the home side was herculean to say the least as they defended near their own try line for the next 10 minutes, doing much of it a man down as Ricky Lee saw a yellow card for his allegedly illegal attempt to turn over ball. There were key tackles throughout the forwards and backs during this period, with some try savers from Steve Neill, Johnston and Buchanan in particular.
The scrum proved to be the life line on the day as, after forcing a knock on, the Enniskillen scrum, now with Stevie Welsh on at loosehead prop, drove the visitors ruthlessly off the ball and forced the penalty to give Lendrum a good chance to gain territory with the boot. Skins worked hard in the dying minutes to deny the visitors a losing bonus point but the referee blew up the contest soon afterwards at 14-7.
It is hard to describe the physicality of the encounter which will leave Skins battered and bruised facing two more games in quick succession, away to Randalstown on Saturday and home to Carrickfergus next Tuesday, requiring two wins and a bonus point to finish 2nd and secure a promotion play off, but players and coaches undoubtedly believe anything is possible given what the side has achieved this season.