|Cooke 1st XV
||24 - 9
||Enniskillen 1st XV
Enniskillen 1st XV took to the field at Shaw’s Bridge against Cooke 1st XV last Saturday, and were harshly reminded by the 80th minute that there needs to a more balanced consistency, and hunger on display, should they wish to continue and press for top half, if not top 4, of League honours.
The game started brightly, although it appeared that the referee’s interpretation at the scrum left Enniskillen getting penalised early on which took some of the sting out of the dominant Enniskillen pack. The Cooke 10 took full advantage of this and soon Cooke had a 6 point gap which gave them a cushion to work from. An early penalty attempt by John Maguire went wide of the posts, but he quickly came back to slide one over the crossbar to reduce the deficit to 3 points.
Then followed a passage of play when Enniskillen, through a loose kick by Cooke, saw some direct yet skilful running from fullback Robert Baloucoune; this is precisely what Skins needed as the talented player has been somewhat starved of good ball in open space in earlier games; his attacking skills caused issues for Cooke but as the back row and supporting players could not get there quick enough to secure the ball, Cooke turned over ball and cleared as Skins searched for the try. Skins continued to attack at the heart of Cooke and were penalised as Johnston found himself in an offside position just outside the 10m line; the Cooke 10 took full advantage of this and dissected the posts pushing them on by another 3 points to 9-3. Skins rallied again as they mauled the Cooke lineout, and as the home side were penalised for collapsing the maul, Maguire stepped up and took the penalty well again reducing the deficit to 3 points.
There appeared to be a reenergising of the Enniskillen team as again they drove back from the kick off. Cooke again infringed however the resultant penalty went wide. From the Cooke kick off they drove deep into the Enniskillen half, and the counter attack from Skins was unfortunate to get blown up for another penalty, deemed to be holding on to the ball on the ground; the Cooke 10 for once misjudging his kick which sailed wide. From here the game started to go wrong and ultimately this period proved to be the turning point of the game; Following a very poor restart kick from Maguire, Cooke took their opportunity well as they reset their scrum on the halfway and attacked the Skins line with pace and a ferocity that was clearly absent in their opposition. Winger Mark O’Shea went for an opportunistic interception but was deemed to have deliberately knocked down the ball; the referee was quick to blow his whistle and O’Shea was shown a yellow card and sent to the bin for 10 minutes, Cooke gladly took the 3 points leaving the scoreline 12-6 as the whistle went for halftime.
The second half started as the first ended, with Cooke attacking the Skins line. With the help of a simple 2 on 2, and numerous missed tackles, Enniskillen let Cooke in for a very soft try, duly converted increasing the home side’s lead to 19-6. Cooke immediately smelled blood and a win that would allow them to climb the table. Their scrum half continued to offer a swift delivery to release their backline and a seemingly much fitter back row disrupted play at every opportunity as they had now grown in confidence and stature. As the clock ticked away, Maguire hit another penalty to bring the scoreline back to 19-9. Skins tried in vain to control and force the game as it progressed, looking for that elusive try which could bring them back into losing bonus point territory. An opportunity came close in the Cooke 22 but a strange decision to kick the ball sent it dead as opposed to staying big and trusting the support play to assist. A reprisal wasn’t to be as the game proceeded and, with only minutes left on the clock, Cooke dealt the killer blow with another well-deserved, and what was surely the try of day, as the Cooke men crossed the line again leaving the scoreline 24-9.
This is a game best forgotten for Skins and one which may haunt the side the rest of the season; this is a good team, but a team that showed little spirit against Cooke. A number of individuals will be disappointed with their performance and failed to play with a heads up performance for 80 minutes. To take some positives out of this game, we saw the strike running that Robert Baloucoune can offer this team when given the ball and some space. Kaine Holden also performed well as he adopted the No 8 position and delivered some good lines of running in the absence of Ricky Lee. Areas that need to be worked on as Skins now move into the end of the first half of the season is the distribution at 9 and 10; the speed of delivery, all too often on Saturday was sluggish, and the 10 consequently could not get the side going forward on the front foot. Execution in the final third of the pitch must be better if we want to go on and compete for honours.