Enniskillen 1st XV had an excellent start to their league campaign last Saturday as they travelled to Portadown and ground out a 20-19 victory. Additionally it was clear Skins were missing quite a few regulars and the performance against a top four league side given the circumstances is all the more positive.
Early possession favoured the home side and Skins were constantly forced to defend as the Portadown out half continued to drill low kicks into the corner, forcing multiple attempts at clearance from Enniskillen followed by attacking pressure from the opposition. Skins finally gained some relief as they were awarded a penalty at the ruck in the Portadown half, allowing Lendrum to put 3 points on the board.
Portadown’s out half continued to probe the Enniskillen corner with kicks and this paid off shortly afterwards as a loose line out ball fell into the hands of a Portadown forward who cantered over the line with ease. Skins’ fortunes continued to go downhill as the consistent pressure in their own half forced errors. A failed clearance landed into the hands of the Portadown backs and the second try was another easy effort for the home side.
Enniskillen settled themselves after this error ridden spell and looked to find their feet in the game. The back line began to show their ability now as Robert Baloucoune’s counter attack was typically devastating and some excellent hands out wide found James Ferguson who went in for a try, converted by Lendrum to bring the deficit to 14-10 just at the end of the first half.
The scrum was an area of dominance now for Skins with Ferguson, Fox and Beatty rotating the propping duties to great effect and they used this well in the second half. A devastating drive from the pack won a penalty and Lendrum calmly slotted the kick to bring the score to 14-13. The visitors were also treated to some more possession now and had more opportunities to attack. Jamie Johnston broke the line and sprinted into the Portadown half before offloading to the diligently supporting Richie Willis who then got a pass away to Paddy McCleery on his inside to touch down for a try, converted to go 20-14 up.
It was tense times now for Enniskillen as injuries crept in and it looked set to be a battle for the final 15 minutes. Portadown played some good attacking rugby to work their way into the Skins half and began to bombard the defensive line. A Portadown score in the corner was disallowed after a forward pass but Skins failed to manage an exit from the scrum and a Portadown penalty was tapped and touched down over the line, crucially unconverted to trail a mere 19-20.
It was desperate defence now to hold the home side off for less than 5 minutes. It was good game management from Skins who claimed a penalty at the scrum and pinned the opposition back in their half for the remaining minutes and showed great tenacity in defence to grind out the game.
Despite there being plenty of room for improvement there was no shortage of grit from the Skins side and this win on the road is a solid start to the season. Michael Law marshalled the back line defence extremely well while Richard Grey returned from 1st XV retirement to deliver a huge performance. Prop Marcus Crawford also put in a tireless display in his first fixture while being forced to shuffle through various positions in the pack.
1st XV Captain Ryan Cathcart commented on the start to the season.
“I was very proud of the performance on Saturday. We had a fair few changes in the side due to various things that are unavoidable this time of year but we overcame, maybe a lack of familiarity, with a good mentality and work ethic. It’s a good start with plenty to build on over the next couple of weeks.”
Enniskillen don’t return to league action now until 16th September, this weekend they host Armagh 2nd XV in the conference at home while the 3rd XV travel to Carrick On Shannon for a friendly season opener.