AIB League 3: Queens University 41 Banbridge 22

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A well-drilled and multi-talented Queen’s side dealt clinically with the challenge of Banbridge to go through to the Division Three play-off final against Nenagh Ormond.

Ulster’s uncrowned team-of-the-year outscored the Rifle Park lads by six tries to three, but they were made to battle all the way as the visitors gave further evidence of their continuing improvement in an entertaining game.

Two late tries wrapped it all up for Queen’s but for 70 minutes Bann remained in contention as they matched the students in commitment, passion and skill.

Indeed had Bann’s lineout work matched their scrummaging the result might well have been reversed. Unfortunately their efforts out of touch, which had laid the foundation for much of their success over the season, too often saw possession go to the opposition.

Queen’s looked dangerous from the outset and an early penalty from out-half James McKinney was soon augmented by an unconverted try from strong-running full-back David McIlwaine, as the Bann defence struggled to contain a sustained assault.

After that less than auspicious start Bann settled to play some attractive rugby. That yielded a fine try on 17 minutes after Dale Black had fielded a box kick inside his own half to set full-back Shandon Scott off on a 25 metre run through a phalanx of Queen’s players.

When the ball was moved swiftly from a subsequent ruck prop Michael Cromie barged past a couple of defenders before finding Chris Leathem with a tidy pass and the winger touched down near the corner flag. Scott added the testing conversion.

Leathem grabbed a second try seven minutes later after pouncing on a handling mistake by the Queen’s backs, fielding the wayward ball to set off on a 60 metre run to the posts, with McKinney in vain pursuit. Scott’s conversion put Bann 8-14 ahead.

Queen’s hit back with an unconverted try by Ulster centre Jonny Shiells but a Scott penalty edged Bann four points ahead with half-time approaching. The students nosed in front again before the interval after a siege of the Bann line had ended with prop Paul Karayiannis forcing his way over from minimum range, McKinney’s conversion taking the score to 22-17.

Lax Bann defence let Mark Robinson in for Queen’s’ fourth try just eight minutes into the second half, McKinney again adding the extras. But Bann were still very much in the game and when they won a penalty outside the Queen’s “22” the shot at goal was spurned in favour of a line kick for a 5-metre lineout. This time the throw and catch operation worked a treat and a drive for the line was rounded off by Cromie’s touchdown.

The depth of talent in the students’ pool of players was underlined by the introduction late in the game of Ulster scrum-half Ian Porter. The ex-Bann mini player was making a return from injury and it was his searing break which set up a fifth try for his side, with Shiells adding the finishing touch for Porter to land the conversion.

Queen’s lock Andrew Linton may have put a gloss on the scoreline with his last-minute try in the corner, but there was no doubting the students’ right to go forward to the final where they will surely prove too strong for Nenagh.

Queen’s Director of Rugby Robbie Moore was however full of praise for the young Bann side. “I thought it was anybody’s game up until the last 15 minutes when we just nudged ahead”, he said after the match. “If Bann can keep that squad together for next year they will be a big threat because they are as good a side as we have played all year.”

Indeed after a very poor Ulster League run and defeats in their two opening AIL games, Bann turned their season round to qualify for the Division Three play-offs. Queen’s have shown the standard that has to be reached consistently if promotion is to be earned next season, but Bann’s performance on Saturday suggested that they are at least heading in the right direction.

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