|Hollywood 1st XV
||5 - 31
||Enniskillen 1st XV
On Saturday last Enniskillen travelled to Kerr Park Holywood for this Qualifying League encounter, anxious to reverse their poor run of performances during February, and hopefully return to winning ways. Although the season’s toll of injuries reflected on the team selection, club coach Norman Richmond was anxious to demonstrate how the strength of his extended squad could now deal with these inevitable circumstances that arise during the course of a rugby season. Enniskillen fielded with three changes in the starting line-up from the team that was narrowly beaten by Carrickfergus the previous week. Nicky Finlay returned to the out half position and Nathan Richmond slotted into the centre to partner Alan Wilkinson. Richard Beatty resumed tight head duties in place of Mark Hood, who was unavailable. Robert Connor made his third start of the season for Enniskillen on the left wing. After much soul searching during the week the seventeen players who travelled to Holywood were focused on proving they were much better than recent results would suggest.
In stark contrast to the previous week the game was played in near perfect conditions with a sight wind favouring the home side during the first period. Holywood, having won the toss, opted to kick-off to the visitors. Enniskillen displayed immediate intent, controlling possession for the opening ten minutes, playing the game in the opposition half. Holywood’s defence was resolute from the start in their determination to thwart any attempts by the opposition to play the game in their half. Any notions the visitors may have had about bossing proceedings for the afternoon were abruptly allayed, when with just six minutes gone Holywood efficiently moved the ball along their back line, having overturned possession at a ruck just inside the Enniskillen half. Their left wing stepped inside the defence and hacked the ball towards the visitor’s try line. Fortunately for Skins the referee adjudged the ball had crossed the dead ball line just before it had been touched down.
This proved to be the wake up call Johnston’s men required. From the re-start they controlled possession, driving deep into the opposition half with a series of well-executed rucks, reflecting a level of composure that had been missing from recent performances.
Holywood did eventually concede a penalty for an offside infringement in the seventeenth minute and with fast ball from the resulting line-out Alan Wilkinson cut through the home cover to touch down for the opening score of the afternoon.
The Skins in the front row of Stephen Fox, Ryan Cathcart, Richard Beatty, and Danny Maguire when required, controlled proceedings at scrum time, and with several strikes against the head they made it difficult for the Holywood tight eight to establish any foothold in the game. The home side did continue to test the Enniskillen back three of Finlay, Connor and O’Callaghan with a series of high balls, with the help of a very unpredictable wind. The three proved well able to deal with these numerous aerial onslaughts, and on several occasions effectively counter attacked from deep within their own half. In the thirty-seventh minute Ashley Finlay gathered cleanly before he released Robert Connor in space who, having broke out of his own twenty-two, sprinted over fifty metres to set up an Enniskillen attack down the left flank. Having forced Holywood to concede a line-out the visitor’s scrum-half, Paddy McCreery, having broke through the defensive cover passed to Jamie Johnston who ran twenty metres to claim the second touch down of the game. Nick Finlay subsequently obliged with a successful conversion.
Shortly after the re-start David Buchannon gathered possession just inside his own half after a mix-up in the home side attack and after evading several tackle attempts to break clear decided to sprint to the line to register Enniskillen’s third try of the afternoon.
Finlay’s conversion left the visitors nineteen points ahead at the interval.
Enniskillen continued controlling possession in the second half, playing a wide expansive game at every opportunity. They enjoyed a period of dominance, building phases and protecting possession. Then, in the forty-ninth minute, after a series of controlled phases they were awarded a five metre scrum. The ball was again quickly moved to Alan Wilkinson at first centre who, having side stepped the home side cover, crossed the line to score Enniskillen’s fourth try of the game, thus securing the bonus point and almost certainly a well needed victory.
Enniskillen’s level of intensity at the breakdown reflected their commitment and desire to control proceedings. They continued to control the scrums and to drive at the opposition defence. Their persistence paid off again in the fifty-sixth minute, when Jamie Johnston, who played a captain’s role throughout, popped up in support to finish off a well worked move to put the contest beyond any doubt.
Holywood to their credit did not relent in their efforts to cross the visitor’s line.
From the re-start both packs tried to control territory, with neither side managing to establish dominance. The final quarter of the game, for the most part, being played between the two twenty-two metre lines. Hollywood’s efforts eventually paid off when in the final minutes reduced arrears by registering an unconverted try.
The Enniskillen back row of Johnston, Cadden and Holden excelled in the loose throughout, and as hard as Holywood tried to claw their way back into the game in the second period their efforts were constantly frustrated by the visitor’s resolute defence.
The Enniskillen players, who had been bitterly disappointed with their recent performances, were visibly relieved to have returned to winning ways and can now look forward with confidence to the season’s remaining fixtures. Their focus of attention now moves to next Saturday and a home encounter with Grosvenor, for the first of the five remaining league encounters.