|Carrickfergus 1st XV
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||Enniskillen 1st XV
Enniskillen First XV registered a very memorable and hard fought victory at the weekend away to Carrickfergus in the league. In wet and windy playing conditions and with plenty of controversial decisions from the referee, it was the sort of game that could have caused some sides to lose their composure and play with reckless abandon, but it was how this Skins side handled their obstacles that was a real testament to the team on the day.
The game started with Enniskillen really hitting the ground running, and the effects of the two hour journey imperceivable so far. Skins also had the wind on their side for the first half and Nick Finlay’s kicking to touch was sublime, but unfortunately the line out struggled to function cleanly early on in the conditions and a couple of errors gave Carrick some relief on more than one occasion.
Fortunately for Enniskillen it was evident early on that they once again housed the dominant scrum and in only the second scrum of the day deep in the Carrick half Enniskillen took possession against the head with the Fox, Cathcart and Gareth Beatty front row undoubtedly aware this would be an area they could exploit throughout the contest.
There was an extended period of pressure early on inside the opposition 22 metre and Carrick did well to hold out as the Enniskillen maul tried to force it’s way over the try line and the scrum continuing to impose itself. Captain Jamie Johnston continued to lead from the front and carried aggressively to wear down the defence along with Kaine Holden who also made plenty of hard yards, and although subsequent errors allowed Carrick possession, their attempt at a clearance was viciously ran back by full back Ashley Finlay who cut through the line, with David Buchanan and Jack Harte running great support lines.
It was a scrum near the Carrick 5 metre line that finally yielded Enniskillen some overdue dividends on their efforts when Carrickfergus were penalised for collapsing the scrum, and a tap and go from quick thinking scrum-half Paddy McCleery gave Skins their first try, converted by Nick Finlay.
To Carrick’s credit they were eager to respond appropriately and attacked relentlessly for a long period in the first half, but the Enniskillen defence was flawless with some huge collisions coming in from Jack Harte and Michael Cadden, and winger Kyle Johnston controlling the drift defence excellently. It was also an industious display from the forwards defusing a very threatening Carrickfergus maul.
The interplay between the forwards and backs flowed seamlessly, and centre Nathan Richmond made great ground after a line break but a harsh penalty for holding on gave Carrick some breathing room. Both teams then found themselves down to 14 before half-time when Michael Cadden was involved in a scuffle on the ground, and it would appear it was Enniskillen who were hard done by as the incident at the time seemed fairly one sided.
The second half began as an arm wrestle but again it was the scrum which put Enniskillen back in the ascendency, notably managing to steal opposition ball despite having a one man deficit in the scrum contest as Carrick continued to put 8 men in for the scrum.
Following a line out deep in the Carrick half, the Enniskillen forwards carried well and threatened the Carrick try line once again; out-half Nick Finlay then displayed some great individual skill when he received the ball and finding himself short of options, opted for the drop goal and executed it to perfection, extending the lead to 10-0.
This score gave Enniskillen some breathing room but they maintained focus and refused to let Carrick back into the game. With Richie Beatty now on at prop the scrum continued to punish Carrick and they rarely retained their own put-in in the second half, additionally despite Carrick kicking well with the wind to gain territory this was all well dealt with by Finlay at full back, aided by wingers Johnston and Charlton, and effectively left the home side were very low on options.
Enniskillen settled in now and played very patient Rugby to see off the game, Gareth Beatty and Ricky Lee carried well to wear down the opposition as well as the clock. A penalty for holding on to the ball gave Carrick three points before full time but the defensive effort was resolute from Enniskillen and Carrick were well contained for the remainder of the half.
Head Coach Norman Richmond was clearly encouraged by the result and credited the work in defence.
"I was extremely pleased with the performance displayed by the 1XV. This squad of players are growing in confidence with every performance and bodes well for the season. Our forwards dominated the Carrick pack and demonstrated a cohesiveness and hunger that will stand them in good stead for the season. Our back line performed well, the defence was superb from 1-15. It was great to see Jamie Johnston settling more into his role as Captain, Gareth Beatty led the pack well on Saturday allowing Jamie to concentrate and keep the team going forward. Within the backs, Ashley Finlay and Nicky Finlay, demonstrated their experience which is rubbing off on those around them and is only good for the future of the club.
"This win now sets the stall for the season, this weekend we have a tough game as we are back in the Millar McCall Junior Cup Quarterfinal against Ballymena 2XV, a game that we are looking forward to but know that the competition will be difficult as they defeated Clogher Valley 1XV in the previous round...but then again we are at Mullaghmeen and no visit should ever be taken lightly.”
The First XV play at home this Saturday to Ballymena 2XV in the Quarter Final of the Junior Cup, which should be an exciting encounter between two teams both coming off big performances. Kick-off 2.30pm.