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Ballyclare 1XV 16
Enniskillen 1XV 17
Enniskillen 1st XV did the seemingly impossible last weekend in their penultimate league game as they triumphed 16-17 away in Ballyclare for an incredible achievement in the wake of a difficult season. The Ballyclare men are in the form of their lives, unbeaten at home in the league this season prior to last Saturday, vying for the title of league champions, which they were ultimately denied, and with a Town’s Cup Final in their sights this Easter Monday. Skins in contrast have struggled to find their form, are embroiled in a relegation battle and have only managed one away victory this season. In context it was very much David and Goliath, but in reality on the day it was a case of Skins digging deep for an exceptional display of grit to save their season and avoid relegation.
Skins were dogged from the beginning, pressuring everything and displaying an intent that had been absent in many away fixtures this season. An early score came for Skins as a kick through was pressured by Jarlath Maguire, in only his second start for the 1st XV, forcing a fumble from the Clare wing which Maguire kicked ahead and dived on for his first try in Q1, converted by Lendrum.
Uncharacteristic errors continued to come from the home side as Skins showed immense tenacity in defence, forcing knock ons and ripping the ball in contact numerous times, much to Ballyclare’s frustration. Too much eagerness at the breakdown allowed Ballyclare to get on the scoreboard with a successful penalty to bring the scoreline to 3-7.
Skins responded immediately from the restart and James Ferguson’s score summed up the rewards of such doggedness as he charged down an attempted clearance kick, which then bounced up nicely for the 13 as he used his considerable pace to sprint for the tryline, converted yet again by Lendrum to go 3-14 up for an unprecedented dream start.
The Skins defensive effort was impressive with the entire line up working intensively to shut down the dangerous Ballyclare attack, giving them very little breathing room; tireless tackling coming from Fox, Donnelly and Gormley. Gareth McCoy lining up at 12 showed his experience in marshalling the defensive line in the backs alongside a back three of Balmer, Finlay and Maguire who proved solid under the high ball. Skins struggled to hold the formidable Ballyclare scrum on occasion but some disruption at the line out from Gavin Parke blunted the home side’s attack with some crucial steals while the Skins line out functioned well.
After a big carrying display from Skins, with Buchanan and Kelly battering the home side’s defence, Ballyclare showed their frustration with a breakdown penalty that Lendrum subsequently punished with 3 points from the boot, bringing Skins 17-3 up.
The home side came back hard in search of points before half time and a good carry from their 8 brought them into the Skins half. Again Skins were deemed to be slowing down the ruck and Ballyclare managed to convert a kick at goal before half time to finish 6-17.
Skins were undoubtedly aware Ballyclare would be a proverbial wounded beast in the second half and they weren’t to disappoint, starting strong with the wind behind them. A good kick deep into the Skins’ 22 had them defending a Ballyclare maul and a series of carries that resulted in a scrum to the attacking side. They used their reliable weapon well and a pick from their 8 just made it over the line from the back of the scrum, unconverted to trail 11-17.
A sudden turnover shortly afterwards during a period of Skins attack caught the back three out of position and a kick over the top was chased by the Clare winger and touched down despite the desperate backtracking of Ashley Finlay, conversion missed to bring proceedings to a mere 16-17.
With still a fair chunk of the final half to go Skins were under serious pressure from the now rampant Ballyclare and they regrouped for a final stand. From the restart they set up in the opposition half and attacked hard within metres of the try line with good close quarter carrying from returned export Gavin Warrington and energy sapping rucking from the support. Ballyclare somehow kept Skins out and eventually turned over ball, attacking again down field with Enniskillen tracking back. The tackling effort was superb and a few crucial turnovers kept the home side from gaining too much ground. Skins were fortunate to see a kick at goal drift wide after their dogged defence earned them a penalty for coming through the ruck. Shortly afterwards in the dying minutes an attempted choke tackle slipped high to give Ballyclare a chance to win with the final kick of the game. The ball shaved wide of the posts and Enniskillen erupted, a lucky escape but a deserved win against the odds.
This crucial win now gives them a chance to leap Portadown in the table and avoid a playoff, provided they summon a similar performance on April 7th and claim a win when Coleraine visit Mullaghmeen.