Antrim 22-17 Belfast Harlequins
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A much changed Antrim team entertained a strong Belfast Harlequins team in their first home league game of the season, after 3 defeats on the road. It was a close encounter and a spirited comeback from Antrim who went on to clinch the 22-17 victory with tries from Jack Dempster and David McKee and some good kicking from Aden Howe.
Antrim started poorly and with only 2 minutes on the clock, allowed the Quins Number 8 to power over near the corner, from close range, after some good rucking from the away team to take a 5-0 lead after missing the conversion.
Antrim kicked off again and were immediately faced with a Quins attack from their heavy pack. A Quins scrum at halfway saw their Number 8 pickup and escape some weak Antrim tackles and storm away to score beneath the posts to the dismay of everyone on the touchline. After the conversion Quins now had a 12-0 lead after 6 minutes gone.
The frantic opening continued with Antrim scoring this time after winger, Simon Neve making his first start for the club, slalomed his way through the Quins defence after receiving a loose kick and linking with fellow winger Jack Dempster, who easily rounded his man to score in the corner .With the missed conversion, Quins lead was now 12-5.
Antrim rallied together after the score and began to make their hits in the tackle count from centre John Bull. Quins were pegged back in their own 22 metre with good kicks from outhalf Howe and scrum half Gary Walker. Antrim then had what looked like a good try from Dempster again chalked out after a foot in touch.
Despite the disallowed try, Antrim continued to apply pressure and Howe was able to kick a penalty after a good catch and return from full back Gary Smith saw Quins kill the ball on their 22 metre. Antrim approached the interval with just a 4 point deficit as Quins now lead 12-8.
After strong words at halftime, Antrim reapplied the pressure on Quins and used their backs to move the Quinn pack around the pitch. Centre, John Bull and Captain Mark Perry both put in a shift in attack and defence as Antrim had another penalty which Howe narrowly missed.
After a lull in play from both sides, Quins won a scrum near the Antrim 22 metre and the Quins 8 again picked and drove through poor Antrim tackling to score in the corner. The conversion was missed and the scoreline now was 17-8 to Quins.
With time running out, Antrim were forced into changes which seen the injured Matthew Webb go off and centre John Bull switch to flanker and player/coach Richard Smyth into centre.
Urged forward by Captain Mark Perry, Antrim rallied together and were rewarded for their efforts after some good line out ball unleashed their backs and setting Jack Dempster away again to score under the Quins posts. Howe converted for a score of 17-15 to Quins.
Antrim now sensed the Quins back line was there for the taking and continued to launch attacks upon them, lead by centre David McKee. The Antrim backline worked a superb training ground move which saw McKee break free from the halfway, dummy his way past the Quins fullback and score under the posts for Antrim to take the lead 22-17 with Howe adding the extras and only 5 mins remaining.
Quins now went now went on the attack and camped on the Antrim line only to be thwarted at every attempt by some sterling defensive work from everyone, especially Man of the Match Mark Perry and with a late yellow card for John Bull, it was certainly “backs to the wall” stuff for the home team who held on to take the points 22-17.
Coach Smyth was not short on his praise for the way the boys responded to going behind. “ It was a performance for everyone to be proud of. I asked everyone to step up to the plate and wasn’t disappointed.”
Training resumes on Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm at the club, ahead of Saturday’s away fixture to Armoy.