|Ballyclare 1st Xv
||7 - 3
||Enniskillen 1st XV
Ballyclare 1st XV 7
Enniskillen 1st XV 3
Enniskillen 1st XV traveled to Ballyclare on Saturday for, what developed into, a gruelling 80 minute battle. The conditions were expectedly unpleasant as icy remains scattered the outskirts of the pitch and the surface itself looked to have taken on substantial moisture during the week. While the fixture had the essence of a stalemate throughout, it was an early costly error from Enniskillen that let the home side get their only score of the contest to set themselves up for an eventual victory.
Both teams tried to play expansive rugby in the early phases before the surface began to cut up and the game grew gradually tighter. Enniskillen carried well to break down the home side defence but the conditions forced a lot of handling errors and the scrum proved a fairly even contest in the first half. Following some probing carries from the Ballyclare forwards just inside the opposition half, Skins were caught short of numbers and Ballyclare moved the ball well out wide to touch down for a fairly easily taken try that would have made Skins supporters uneasy so early on. Enniskillen regrouped under the posts as the conversion sailed over to leave them 7-0 down and refocused their efforts. From the restart the game turned into an arm wrestle and ground was excruciatingly difficult to gain. Ballyclare’s infringements at the breakdown soon earned them a yellow card and Maguire kicked down the touchline in an effort to apply pressure on the Ballyclare line. The line out functioned well given the conditions but Ballyclare defended the maul tenaciously and Skins struggled to capitalise on this period of superior numbers. The Skins back line admirably played some good rugby in the conditions and Monteith ran some hard lines at 12 while Keys distributed well at 13 to give James Ferguson a chance to test the defence out wide; additionally Ashley Finlay’s characteristic counter attack from fullback kept the home side well fenced in throughout.
Enniskillen battered the Ballyclare line for some time but failed to penetrate the industrious defence of the home side and an eventual handling error, a byproduct of the muddy terrain, gave Ballyclare some relief and they cleared their lines from a scrum to go into the end of the half leading.
The second half was no less of a grind as both sides fought desperately for possession. The home side were in the ascendency early on as Skins found themselves pinned back in their own half. Industrious tackling from the back row and intelligent work from Carleton and Holden at the line out to disrupt Ballyclare ball made it difficult for the home side to set anything up; the swirling wind, however, made it equally difficult for Maguire to kick Skins into more favourable territory. Eventually Skins got possession and kicked long upfield and, with the help of a good chase from the back three, forced an error from the Ballyclare fullback to set up a scrum in the opposition half. The scrum seemed to click now and a massive shove from the Ferguson, Cathcart and Fox front row gained the penalty and allowed Skins to set up a maul inside the Ballyclare 22’. The maul broke down but repeated carries from the pack had the home side under pressure and soon they gave away another penalty within kicking distance that allowed Maguire to bring Skins back to trailing a mere 7-3.
Morale was up now and Enniskillen again attacked the home side from the restart with the chance of a turnaround victory looking possible. Skins kept the ball tight now, not wanting to lose possession, and although progress was slow the home side were tiring and another penalty for lying over the ruck had Skins set up a line out 10 metres from the line. The throw was deemed crooked by the ref and Ballyclare managed a clearance from the resultant scrum that had Enniskillen back down the field in the dying minutes with little hope of reaching the try line anytime soon as the referee blew for full time, a 7-3 defeat leaving Enniskillen with a losing bonus point for consolation.
It was another case of a courageous performance from Enniskillen that ended in defeat but there were plenty of positives in how they handled the early deficit and exhibited such composure throughout. Also to add context, Ballyclare remain unbeaten at home this season and only Enniskillen and neighbours Clogher have come away from The Cloughan with any league points at all. Skins will hope for their efforts to finally pay off this weekend as they host Cooke at Mullaghmeen, a team they owe a performance following a poor showing away to the side in December.
Enniskillen 1st XV:- 1. Alan Ferguson, 2. Ryan Cathcart, 3. Steven Fox, 4. David Buchanan (C), 5. James Carleton, 6. Jamie Johnston, 7. Jack Harte, 8. Kaine Holden, 9. Patrick McCleery, 10. John Maguire, 11. Matthew Balmer, 12. Matthew Monteith, 13. Connor Keys, 14. James Ferguson, 15. Ashley Finlay, 16. Stephen Welsh, 17. Gavin Parke