||21 - 3
Enniskillen 1XV 21
Ballymena 2XV 3
Enniskillen 1st XV sealed their place in the Town’s Cup Semi-Final last Saturday as they saw off a determined visiting Ballymena 2nd XV side 21-3. It was a tale of two halves for Enniskillen as they used their dominant set piece to build three scores in the first half, before battling an attempted Ballymena resurgence in the second half with an admirable defensive display.
Enniskillen received the restart playing with a swirling Mullaghmeen wind at their backs and Lendrum kicked deep into the opposition half to pin them back early on. Carleton and Parke pressured the opposition line out and made it difficult for the visitors to gain any ground. The scrum proved another decisive feature as the front row of Warrington, Cathcart and Beatty showed their ability to punish sides as they put the visitors under extreme pressure at every put in. Set up on the Ballymena 22 now the Skins forwards carried hard at the defence and made good ground through close quarter carries. Ballymena gave away a penalty as they tried to slow down Skins ruck ball and, rather than take the penalty, Skins backed their scrum and continued to threaten the line, eventually a series of pick and go’s began and Skins exhibited patient and ruthless ball retention until eventually Gavin Warrington crossed the line for a score near the posts, converted by Nick Finlay to go 7-0 up.
It was more of the same from the restart and Skins showed their ability to move the ball as Finlay at 9 and Lendrum at 10 used the forward pack expertly, Jamie Kelly and David Buchanan gaining good yards with ball in hand. Penalties continued to creep in from Ballymena and it allowed Lendrum to kick Skins deep in to the visitors’ half once again. The line out was secure despite the wind and a rampant maul brought play approaching the Ballymena 5 metre line. Another penalty came Skins’ way as they put attacking phases together and naturally they opted for the scrum. Ballymena again felt the pressure of the Enniskillen shove and the scrum was repeatedly reset, firstly the penalty awarded and then eventually the penalty try awarded as the visitors collapsed inches from their own line, now bringing the scoreline to 14-0.
Ballymena had a foray into Skins half from the restart and put together some good attacking phases with no shortage of big ball carriers or pace in the backs. The defensive effort, however, was up another level from Enniskillen and they worked tirelessly around the corner to shut down the attack. A tackle creeping high was the only lifeline for the visitors as they kicked at goal from the penalty and took 3 points from the period of pressure, 14-3 to Skins.
In the dying minutes of the second half Skins went back on the attack from the restart, moving the ball well with the Millar and Ferguson centre partnership looking threatening. Soon Enniskillen were back knocking on the door once again on the Ballymena 5 metre line and the patience from Skins was beyond what had been seen in recent fixtures as they continued to batter the resilient Ballymena defence with no threat of error, eventually Jamie Kelly spotted a gap and powered over for a score, converted again by Finlay to go 21-3 up at the end of the half.
The second half was a much different affair with no points scored by either side. Ballymena with the wind at their back showed their ability in attack and also to retain possession, looking well drilled in open play. For Skins it was almost convenient that the game took this turn as they had an opportunity to show they’ve put old ghosts to rest and got their defence to where it needs to be, putting in as determined a display as we’ve seen all season.
It was fairly end to end with Skins having to work hard to gain ground playing into the wind, rarely getting the opportunities yielded to them in the first half. Ballymena used the wind well and they had plenty of penalties to gain territory as the ref seemed to have turned on the home side, pinging them on a few occasions for borderline high tackles and slowing the ball down at the ruck.
Thankfully Enniskillen looked comfortable in defence and to a man they dealt with everything thrown at them and refused to concede a try despite being pinned on their own line on multiple occasions. One try being held up just over the line. Back rowers Rutledge, Arnold and of course Carleton were tenacious in the second half and put in a tremendous shift, as did the back three of Mark O’Shea, Matty Dane and Ashley Finlay who thwarted any attempts from the visitors to find space out wide with some dangerous runners.
In the last scrum of the game Finlay kicked to touch from the back to end a long period of stellar defence and a well rounded performance from the side.
This is the fourth consecutive win for Skins who continue to go from strength to strength; this resilience must continue however as the league remains unsafe going into an away fixture to CIYMS this Saturday, a crucial league fixture against a side sitting a mere point above them in the league standings. In the back of their mind will surely be the Town’s Cup Semi-Final, set for March 16th.