|U.U.C. 1st XV
||5 - 47
||Enniskillen 1st XV
Enniskillen 1st XV ended their season on a high at the weekend with a 47-5 win away to University of Ulster Coleraine, their sixth consecutive league win and fifth to register a bonus point scoreline, leaving Skins finishing in fourth place in Qualifying Two with a solid foundation laid for next season.
With the university side facing relegation this season, perhaps the most dangerous hurdle for the visitors to deal with going into this final fixture was a sense of complacency, for example a Major error being the absence of the Enniskillen jerseys forcing an impromptu loan from the home side.
Expectations of a gifted victory were quickly doused by UUC in the opening minutes as they came out of the blocks looking dangerous and, as one would expect from a student side, playing a fast game of Rugby and exhibiting a high work rate, also slipping through early gaps in the Enniskillen defence with an ease which no doubt troubled Coach Norman Richmond on the sideline; but once Enniskillen exorcised the bus journey they put on a fabulous display and to the spectator's delight have surely become one of the most expansive Skins sides we've seen in many years.
A big defensive effort was required early on to quell the early attacking vigour of the home side and some industrious tackling from Mark Hood, Michael Cadden and the forwards was required to keep UUC from registering first blood. Skins soon began to settle into their game plan however, and a well placed kick from Nick Finlay put them deep into the UUC half, and following a turnover the visitors began to apply some pressure inside the Coleraine 22 metre line. An interception was well exploited by the home side who again made a break into the Skins half and last ditch tackling was required once more to keep UUC out. Thankfully for Skins a scrappy line out from the UUC relieved pressure as Paddy McCleery gathered and broke through, pressuring the full back with a clever kick to gain a penalty for Enniskillen at the ruck; a subsequent line out was given out the back line and Alan Wilkinson crashed over for the first try, converted by Nick Finlay.
UUC did attempt another effort to stay in the game and broke through some lacklustre Skins defence once again and looked sure to reply with a try but for tackles from Ashley Finlay and Alan Wilkinson. Despite this threat it seemed Skins were now in their element with a fantastic try coming from a line out on the half way; a powerful carry from Wilkinson followed by an offload to Hood in support, onto McCleery and then to Nathan Richmond to finish in the corner.
The next try followed soon after with Buchanan making a break from the restart to put UUC on the back foot once more; then another fumbled line out from the home side returned possession to Skins with some close range carries drawing the defence for Alan Wilkinson to cross the line from first receiver, converted by Finlay.
The floodgates were seemingly open now as minutes later a Scrum feed taken against the head from the Hood, Cathcart, Fox front row combination was given out the back line and eventually found Ashley Finlay who weaved his way through the defence for another converted score.
Skins soon worked their way back into the opposition half as the UUC defence tired and the next score came from a Richie Grey carry and subsequent maul to aptly draw in defenders before releasing the back line again for Nathan Richmond to cross the line, converted again by Finlay to end the half 33-0.
The second half continued in the same vein with the forwards linking well with the backs: Nick Finlay continued to pin the opposition back with a clinical kicking game and Ashley Finlay’s line breaks out wide had Enniskillen constantly within scoring distance. Another score came early on after a quick tap penalty just outside the UUC 5 metre line was crashed over the line by Jamie Johnston, converted by Finlay.
Another elaborate try followed from the restart after a powerful carry from Johnston, Nick Finlay executed a well placed crossfield kick for Ashley Finlay to gather on the bounce and canter in for a try, converted once again. The snowballing scoreline may have crept into the players’ mindset as some fumbling efforts from the ensuing restart allowed UUC to gain possession deep in the Enniskillen half and come away with a try. Enniskillen got over this setback fairly quickly and the remainder of the game required a big defensive effort from the forwards at all times while in attack Stevie Welsh and Johnston carried hard at the home side who to their credit never gave up and kept the remainder of the game scoreless to finish the encounter at 47-5.
It was a great end to the season for the 1st XV in what has been an exceptionally competitive year of Qualifying Two rugby, especially in the context of overcoming a nightmarish bout of results back in February to come back and put in some of the best performances we’ve seen from the side in a long time. Expectation can be a damaging influence that must always be well managed, but after coming from a previous season with threats of relegation to a top four finish there are surely great ambitions at Mullaghmeen for next season.