|Enniskillen 1st XV
||24 - 19
||Ballymena 2nd XV
Junior Cup Quarter Final
Enniskillen First XV continued their excellent cup form on Saturday with a third consecutive victory in their Junior Cup campaign against a highly rated Ballymena Second XV, gaining a place in the semi-final stages.
Enniskillen started well and looked in no way intimidated by this side who had in the previous round claimed an impressive Clogher Valley scalp. Kaine Holden took the restart well and Nathan Richmond almost broke through the Ballymena back line early on.
Nick Finlay put in a testing high ball for the visitors and an excellent chase from the home side forced a knock on and laid down an early statement of just how much Enniskillen wanted this victory.
The first scrum of the day looked to be only slightly in Enniskillen’s favour as each side sought to get the measure of their opposition, but after a forward pass from Enniskillen another scrum was awarded to Ballymena and now Enniskillen didn’t hesitate to apply the sort of immense pressure that had been displayed in previous weeks. The home side drove Ballymena off the ball seemingly with ease to steal the first of many against the head for what was to be a day of dominance for the in form Enniskillen scrum, the front row of Fox, Cathcart and Beatty no doubt relishing another day in the ascendency.
Jamie Johnston carried well at Number Eight and made good ground from the already mobile scrum, then an excellent running line from Jack Harte off a subtle pass from returning centre Alan Wilkinson gained substantial yards for Enniskillen, but an unfortunate penalty at the breakdown gave Ballymena some temporary relief.
Nick and Ashley Finlay both pressured the Ballymena back three with accurate displays of kicking gaining important territory for the forwards, but Ballymena to their credit dominated the line out and Skins’ struggled to get any dividends from this area of the game throughout the contest. Enniskillen were then penalised at the breakdown yet again in their own half allowing Ballymena to get the first points on the board.
The chase from the restart was good from the home side and they ended up reclaiming possession, then some slick passing from the back line saw winger Kyle Johnston, and then Nathan Richmond, almost slip through out wide. Thankfully the forwards supported very well and Jamie Johnston was there to pick and go after the tackle to get the first try, converted by Nick Finlay.
A fumble at the restart gave Ballymena possession but the defence was solid from the home side and with an opposition scrum inside their half Enniskillen put on a devastating drive to steal the Ballymena put in and send number eight Johnston rampaging off the back of the scrum drawing in the entire Ballymena back row, then an offload to scrum half Patrick McCleery who executed a perfect kick and chase towards the Ballymena try line which he claimed beautifully for a well worked try under the posts, converted once again by Finlay to leave the score 14-3.
Ballymena responded well afterwards, stealing an Enniskillen line out deep in their own half they then were awarded another penalty and were soon threatening the Enniskillen try line. Great cover tackling by Donagh O’Callaghan prevented the first attempt at a try but the following maul from a Ballymena line out allowed Ballymena to cross the Enniskillen line.
After stealing another Ballymena put in at the scrum Nick Finlay got the ball and placed an excellent kick, with an industrious chase from the back line forcing Ballymena to touch the ball down on their own try line, giving Enniskillen a scrum on the 5 metre line which was sure to only yield one outcome. A wonderfully controlled drive from the forwards escorted the Ballymena pack over their own try line before the opposition were forced to collapse the scrum and the referee awarded the home side a penalty try, which Finlay converted to leave the score 21-10 at the half.
The second half saw Ballymena with a lot more possession but the defence remained resolute and Ballymena looked unlikely to break the line, Nick Finlay and the returning Alan Wilkinson's work in marshalling the defence of the back line was excellent in particular. However Ballymena did thrive on some of Skins’ indiscipline and began to chip away at the scoreboard with penalties in the Enniskillen half, firstly for being offside in defence and again for the tackler not rolling away.
Enniskillen still looked dangerous in attack and Ashley Finlay looked to have broken through for another great individual score only for a loose pass to end the attack. The second row pairing of Richard Grey and Danny Maguire carried well and made good yards, but again Enniskillen were well read by Ballymena in the line out and this shut down many of Enniskillen’s attempts to increase their tally.
A further Ballymena penalty now left the score at 21-19 and Enniskillen in a situation they really did not expect at the end of the first half. Thankfully despite being penalised earlier in the half, the scrum continued to dominate and another powerful drive gave Enniskillen a penalty which Nick Finlay used to gain three points and some breathing room for the home side.
It still took some tenacious defence from Enniskillen to see the game off and in the final minutes the team really showed their desire for this victory. With good work from Richard Beatty there was a crucial turn over on the Enniskillen 5 metre line following a Ballymena line out and maul that allowed Enniskillen to clear the ball, then a last effort from the Ballymena back line was well dealt with before the full time whistle to leave the final score at 24-19.
The First XV have a well earned weekend off now but captain Jamie Johnston maintains they’ll be focused following the semi-final draw today which places them away to Qualifying One leaders Instonians, likely to be played on the 29th November.
"I'm really pleased with the performance from Saturday, I think as a team we are growing every week. There is a real honest work rate and endeavour within the club and the performances are reflecting that.
"Ballymena were a very good side, they were well organised and relentless with their attack. Once again our scrum showed itself to be an extremely powerful weapon which gave us great go forward ball.
"Instonians away is going to be a very tough game to win but throughout this entire competition we have been deemed the underdog, in each game to this point the opposition has been favoured to win. We will treat the next round like the rest, prepare well and give it all we have."
The Second XV suffered a defeat away to Dromore in the league but had many positives to reflect on, with excellent performances from young players Conor Hoy, Eric Elliott and Gavin Rogers in their senior rugby debut.