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Ards 1st XV 6
Enniskillen 1st XV 22
Enniskillen 1st XV returned to Ards last Saturday, the scene of their Town’s Cup Quarter Final triumph the previous week, to claim a potentially crucial bonus point league win as they battle for a top four finish, with only two fixtures remaining in the next fortnight. While showers held off well throughout the game and the wind was minimal, the pitch was saturated from the week’s rainfall and the game turned into a mud bath from early on.
Ards again looked a better team than their position at the bottom of the table would suggest, starting well and carrying aggressively at the visitors to eventually work their way into the Skins half. Enniskillen looked sluggish in the early phases and crept offside habitually at the breakdown in an attempt to shut down the Ards momentum. The referee began to crack down on the indiscipline and Ards claimed first blood with a 3 point penalty slotted to take the lead. The game continued to be in the balance right up until the half hour mark with both teams defending well, and Enniskillen failing to unleash their backline yet on the energy sapping surface. However, following a nice pressure kick from Ashley Finlay into the Ards 22’, an attempted box kick from the scrum half was charged down and kicked on by Holden; Matthew Balmer on the wing won the race, against both the Ards fullback and Holden himself, to touch down for the first try, unconverted to go 5-3 up.
This seemed to settle Skins who were more patient in attack now. Working their way back into the Ards half Lendrum sent a cross field kick near the try line and the Ards fullback was forced to kick it dead under pressure from Baloucoune to set up a 5 metre scrum out wide. The front row was in the ascendency up to this point and they focused their efforts for the resultant scrum that put Holden over the line for the second try to go 10-3 up.
Ards continued to compete well up until the end of the half, reclaiming the ball from the restart and winning another penalty at the breakdown as Skins tried to turn over possession, which was slotted to bring the score back to 10-6 as the halftime whistle blew.
The second half kicked off and was a fairly narrow game in the early period. Ards gave away an early penalty at the ruck and Lendrum kicked Skins down into the opposition half to set up a line out. The line out was good but Ards did well to disrupt the Enniskillen maul and protect their line, yet remained pinned inside their own 22’. Skins almost crossed the line from some short range carries but were just held up over the line. The resulting scrum, however, was solid and the ball went blind to Baloucoune who added to his try tally, leaving Skins 15-6 up.
The bonus point try was now the clear target for Enniskillen and they were soon back knocking on the door once again up on the Ards 22’ after a well retained restart and good clearance from Lendrum. The Ards scrum half attempted a box kick clearance about 10 metres out to relieve the pressure but Gavy Parke managed a charge down and Gareth Beatty pounced on the ball over the line for the bonus point try, Lendrum converted to go 22-6 up.
Ards came back hard at Enniskillen and carried the ball well into the Skins half. It was a solid defensive display as Ards bombarded the Skins line with carriers in search of a consolation score. Skins incurred some penalties at the breakdown during their tenacious display which had them pinned further back hugging their own line but they dug deep to keep their line untouched for the remainder of the game and deny a dedicated Ards side a consolation try.
It was a proud performance for Enniskillen in difficult conditions. Buchanan and the senior players in the forwards stood up in physicality against a wounded and dogged Ards side, while the younger members were clinical in crucial situations. Debutant prop Marcus Crawford showed he was more than capable at 1st XV too which is a great testament of strength in depth as Skins go into the final stages of the season and niggling injuries are frequent.
The 1st XV now travel to Portadown this weekend, a critical fixture as Portadown sit in Skins’ coveted 4th place slot with only two league games remaining, and one eye inevitably on the Town’s Cup semi-final on March 25th.