|Enniskillen 1st XV
||15 - 3
||Ards 1st XV
Enniskillen 1st XV 15
Ards 1st XV 3
On a Saturday afternoon pleasingly absent of rain, albeit slightly clammy, Enniskillen 1st XV racked up their third consecutive league victory, beating the visiting Ards side 15-3. This leaves Skins in an unprecedented second place during their first year back in the Qualifying One league, trailing narrowly but with a game in hand over table topping Instonians.
It was far from a fluent victory however as the home side were forced to battle with debatable refereeing decisions that comprised both sending offs and also heavily influenced pivotal areas of the game. Innumerable penalties had Enniskillen often pinned in their own half; it is, however, a testament to the defensive efforts of the home side that the visitors failed to cross the line, the Mullaghmeen fortress remaining impenetrable on the day.
The first 20 minutes were played at a frantic pace as Enniskillen looked determined to bombard the visiting defensive line but lacked any real structure and found it difficult to consistently retain possession. The scrum, which had to this point been a supremely dominant area for Skins, was not going to plan as the home side were deemed to be the repeated offenders for collapsing scrums, an opinion the Skins’ front row clearly didn’t share.
While the Skins attack looked disorderly, the defence was still tenacious and, despite the home side playing too much rugby in their own half, the visitors never really threatened. Some periods of pressure in the Ards half from the pack forced a penalty and Lendrum put the home side in the lead 3-0. Ards responded almost immediately with 3 points following a penalty at the ruck as the Skins forwards looked for a turnover at the breakdown, another area where the referee was uncompromising on the day.
After getting this frenzied period out of the system the home side settled into their patterns in the latter stages of the first half. A kick to touch from Lendrum and resultant maul had the Ards side under substantial pressure as the Skins pack crept deep into the opposition half. After multiple pick and go’s brought Skins up to the 5 metre line, David Buchanan, in a typically wily manoeuvre, picked through the middle of the ruck to touch down for the first try.
It seemed to have clicked for Skins now as Ricky Lee received the restart and steamrolled through the first few tackles before offloading to Jamie Johnston, who continued to sprint up the pitch making excessive yards into the Ards half. A handling error well inside the 22 metre line almost let Ards off the hook but for a Steven Fox charge down that sent the ball back over the line for James Ferguson to touch down, converted to bring Skins 15-3 up with the half almost at a close.
No points were to be scored from either side in the second half as it became a true arm wrestle for the home side as mounting penalties started to take their toll, with multiple cards leaving them on the back foot for most of the half. A red card for scrum half John Maguire for a foot in the ruck that was deemed malicious saw him leave the field; Ricky Lee and Michael Law also both saw yellow and enjoyed trips to the sin bin. This was hardly ideal for Enniskillen but the defensive response was admirable.
Ards kicked well to touch in an effort to apply pressure in the Skins half but Carleton and Holden did well to disrupt the opposition line out; any wayward kicks were equally well dealt with by Ashley Finlay at fullback. Approaching the final 10 minutes Skins were camped on their own line and required a tackling display from the home side that was determined to say the least. When an orchestrated drive from the Ards forwards ended in a try held up by Johnston, the forward pack chose appropriate timing for their best scrum of the game and drove Ards back off their own put-in, then allowing Lendrum to clear and denying Ards a chance at claiming a losing bonus point. The last few minutes remained in the middle of the pitch before a knock on put an end to the fixture, finishing 15-3.
Despite being far from a perfect outing for the 1st XV, Coach Willie Gibson will undoubtedly be pleased with how they ground out a result and kept their composure when little went to plan on the day. The defence was also a noted area for development after the Ballymena game and this was much improved on the day. The 1st XV now have a free weekend before facing a difficult fixture away to Dromore on the 8th of October.