|Academy 1st XV
||13 - 18
||Enniskillen 1st XV
Enniskillen 1sts travelled to Belfast to take on current league leaders Academy, on a very cold and crisp Saturday morning. If the forecast was to be believed the teams might have expected snow, however luckily the worst the teams had to face was a low hanging winter sun.
The game started with some early skins pressure, with the forwards gaining a good platform for the backs, who showed good daring in spreading the ball wide early on. This pressure was enough to earn skins a penalty which Nick Finlay pushed just wide of the left hand post.
From here Academy took their turn to apply pressure to the skins line. After several penalties and good takes at the line out, considering the pressure coming from Kaine Holden, Academy worked their way to the Skins five metre line. After a well worked move from the Belfast team, they would have been in for the first try of the game, but for the giant hands of David Buchannon who held the ball up well.
For large periods of the first half the two packs were engaged in an arm wrestle to win dominance. A strong Academy scrum meant Skins didn't have their usual platform to build from, however the Enniskillen line out operated very well.
Skins got trapped in a game of ariel ping pong and when Nick Finlay was given a daisy cutter of a pass from his scrum half, then lost his feet as he kicked, Academy had the chance to put pressure on Skins, which they duly did. Skins gave away a penalty and Academy converted to draw first blood and leave the score at 3-0.
Skins responded very well winning the ball deep in the home team's half and applying good pressure. The backs were then given an opportunity to impress, and after James Ferguson crashed through a gap, they really got going. The ball was spun from right to left and back again, first Ashley Finlay on the back of a good move who nearly put Kyle Johnston into a gap, then it came back the other way to Donagh O'Callaghan who worked his way deep into the Academy 22. Enniskillen's urgency paid off when they were awarded a penalty, which Nick Finlay slotted to bring the scores level at 3-3.
From the kick off skins again showed good ambition, with David Bichannon and Gareth Beatty both making good breaks from rucks. However Academy started turning the screw at the scrum, forcing penalties and working their way to the Skins line. It was now the Belfast team who were forcing their way to the line. However the Skins defence was resilient and held out long enough for Ashley Finlay to intercept a pass and relieve his team, by kicking long in the last act of the first half.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first, with both teams putting together phases of prolonged pressure on their opponents. From one such phase, Skins battered the Academy line, with Holden going close first then Richie Grey, who rolled back the years to cross for a score. O'Callaghan missed the conversion to leave the score at 8-3 to the visitors.
It wasn't long before the home side replied to Skins' first try with one of their own. Patient phase play allowed them to work into the Skins 22, where the Enniskillen men were slow to set up a pillar, which the Academy 9 noticed to dart under the posts to make the kickers job easier. The conversion was added to leave the score at 10-8.
Academy tried to use their backs to get go forward ball, however the impressive line speed of Alan Wilkinson in defence meant they were stopped before the really got going. One such hit turned the ball over to the skins side, when after another impressive carry from Gareth Beatty, Nick Finlay changed the angle of attack where the backs showed impressive handling to put O'Callaghan in the corner. The conversion was missed but the score stood at 13-10 to the visitors.
Academy again responded strongly pushing skins back into their own half, but Chris McVitty, on for Nick Finlay, kept pinning Academy back with some excellent clearance kicks. McVitty himself had two difficult opportunities with penalties to put the Skins men further ahead but narrowly missed both.
Skins defended well in their own half, but gave away a penalty in a very kickable position, a position which Academy took advantage of to level the scores at 13-13.
The skins response was impressive. Alan Wilkinson grabbed the bull by the horns and ran hard at the Academy defence, to then produce an outstanding off-load off the ground to Jamie Johnston who burst through a gap and brought play to the Academy line. Richie Beatty then carried from the ruck to put the Fermanagh men 18-13 ahead with only a few minutes left on the clock. McVitty missed the conversion.
Academy didn't ease off and attacked the Skins line right to the end of the game, when their dangerous winger got his hands on the ball in space. It was looking ominous until O'Callaghan produced an outstanding cover tackle to force a knock on, and win the game for Skins.