||22 - 3
Instonians 1st XV 22
Enniskillen 1st XV 3
Enniskillen 1st XV continued their drought of league points last Saturday but looked a more determined side as they put in a courageous performance away to league leaders Instonians. Given current form the Belfast side undoubtedly hoped to run away with the fixture but Enniskillen kept the contest an arm wrestle throughout, even despite an early red card.
It was a cold, dry day but a strong wind contributed to handling errors and made kicking difficult into the wind. The home side started with the wind at their backs and pinned Skins in their own half for the early period, asking a massive defensive effort from the visitors. Early exchanges were relentless with no quarter given, first up tackling and the movement of the ball was exciting from both teams and in particular the younger players Connor Keys and Robert Baloucoune who have made their way onto the Senior team. The challenging handling conditions meant frequent scrums and they were scrappy to begin with but the Skins pack seemed to be in the ascendency after numerous resets. The Skins line out was also the better of the two sides in the conditions and Instonians struggled under severe pressure from Holden and Carleton, making it difficult for the home side to capitalise on their substantial possession and territory. However, a number of penalties came Instonians’ way from infringements at the ruck and they kicked themselves down to the Skins 5 metre line where they began to batter the defence with a series of short range carries. Enniskillen repelled the attack well with some massive hits from the pack; Lee, Johnston and Harte in the back row putting in a big effort. However, with so much possession so close to the Enniskillen line it was a matter of time before an opportunity came and eventually a good line from the Instonians centre broke the Skins defence to score under the posts, converted to go 7-0 up.
Skins managed to put together some solid attacking phases from the restart and played their way deep into the opposition half after a penalty from the scrum. The Skins forwards carried hard to the line and the backs moved the ball well. Handling errors unfortunately ended a promising attack and allowed the home side to clear their lines. The rest of the half was fairly stop start due to injuries amongst the home side as they tried to add to their tally against resilient Enniskillen defence. The challenge escalated further for Skins when a huge hit from the Skins open side flanker on the Instonians out half was controversially deemed to have slid high and dangerous by the referee, contrary to the protests of the Enniskillen supporters. The 14-man Enniskillen regrouped as the Instonians out half received treatment and looked resolute in the face of a titanic challenge ahead, exacerbated as the home side slotted the resultant penalty to go in 10-0 up, and with the exit of Steven Fox from a calf strain. Skins knuckled down and got on with the game, making inroads into the Instonians half of the field only to be repelled time and time again. Lendrum had an opportunity to reduce the deficit with a penalty but with the strong wind that sailed down the pitch was always going to be up against it and the half time whistle went leaving Skins 10-0 down.
The second half started as the first ended with relentless pressure and play from both teams as they looked for an opening to exploit. The Inst players were to strike first blood as they caught Skins severely short of numbers against the grain and moved the ball well through the hands of both forwards and backs to score out wide, giving them a slight cushion as the conversion was missed and the scoreboard flashed 15-0.
Back again Skins came and played their way up the field with excellent yards gained from Johnston on a charging run. The defence was admittedly solid from the home side and they were a nuisance at the ruck which slowed down a lot of useful Enniskillen possession. All Skins could muster from this period of pressure was a well slotted penalty from the boot of Lendrum. Skins looked the stronger and hungrier team for the period as the home side battered their line, which was excellent to see in the wake of some lacklustre January performances. The odds were against Skins however, and Instonians made substantial yards through their big number eight and staged a final attack in the dying moments of the game, rumbling over for another try following some good interplay, converted leaving the score 22-3.
In general this was a well contested game and the scoreline will perhaps flatter some of the Instonians faithful. The look forward now is to Dromore 1st XV at Mullaghmeen this Saturday, a fixture that will be heavily targeted as Skins lost narrowly away to the side early on last season, ensuring that the performances continue to improve as they move towards the Quarter Final of the Towns Cup the following Saturday away to Ards.