|Ards 1XV (TC)
||7 - 17
Enniskillen 1st XV pulled off a 17-5 victory away to Ards RFC last Saturday to book their place in the semi final of the River Rock Town’s Cup, now set for March 25th at home to Armagh 2XV. The Ards side, who have struggled alongside Enniskillen in Q1 and face relegation, have exhibited massively improved performances lately and undoubtedly saw the cup as a chance to salvage some success from the season, and naturally they were no pushover on the day and ran Skins very close, but for a couple of well worked scores.
The conditions were fairly calm from the outset but handling errors crept in early on as the surface began to cut up rapidly. Ards were clearly up for the encounter and had some powerful carrying forwards but Enniskillen always looked in control defensively and the back row of Parke, Holden and Harte worked tirelessly near the breakdown, an area that Ards bombarded throughout.
Ards built phases nicely but were well dealt with and their out-half kicked rather aimlessly at times when lacking options, giving ample opportunities to Ashley Finlay at fullback who was characteristically dangerous on the counter attack. The scrum continued to be solid from Skins but Ards generally held their own well and retained their own put in most of the time, but for a well timed shove in the first half from the front row that gained the penalty, Lendrum then kicking Skins downfield to mount an attack. The line out functioned flawlessly but Ards dealt with the maul well, often verging on the illegal, as they collapsed the Skins pack. With this weapon blunted it was the backs who drew first blood as the ball went out wide via some slick passing from the backs to Baloucoune who sped down the wing from just inside the Ards half and evaded cover tackle attempts to score in the corner, unconverted to go 5-0 up.
Ards continued to compete well and both teams ground out the remainder of the half which was mostly played between the two 22’s, each team failing to threaten their respective try lines.
The second half started in the same vein with Ards keen to carry ball but keeping things fairly narrow, and meeting stiff resistance from the Skins pack that consistently forced knock ons from the home side. After a very even 20 minutes a fantastic try came from Skins starting on the halfway; following a James Ferguson break offloads went through Balmer, Parke and then found Johnston in support who ran from outside the 22’ to score out wide, unconverted to go 10-0 up.
Ards continued to put in a dogged performance after this blow and didn’t make life easy for Skins. It was some brilliance from Baloucoune that added to the scoreline 10 minutes later from an Ards attempted clearance kick; changing direction at the defensive line and scything through empty space to score under the posts, converted to go 17-0 up.
The last 10 minutes were industrious from Ards who used an offside penalty to camp themselves inside the Skins 22’. Enniskillen’s defence looked remarkably comfortable defending near their own line and, after bundling Ards into touch, a line out was set up, but a penalty to Ards for a maul infringement gave them a scrum to mount an attack. A Buchanan turn over after the scrum allowed Lendrum to relieve the pressure but Ards returned to near the Skins try line from the line out still in search of points. A well deserved, if controversial, Ards try made it’s way over the Skins line before full time as the referee inadvertently blocked a defensive run from Holden to let the Ards scrum half on the scoreboard, but declared the try stood and things ended 17-7 to Enniskillen.
The win sees Enniskillen head into a Town’s Cup Semi-Final against an Armagh 2nd XV side who have seen off substantial competition from both Ballyclare and Omagh, to be played at Mullaghmeen on 25th March. The immediate focus for Skins, however, returns to the league with only three fixtures remaining to try to salvage a top 4 finish; the first of which is a return to Ards this weekend in what will prove to be another stiff fixture given the heart shown by the side last weekend.