Armagh Rugby Club Notes: Junior Cup FinaL: I XV 10 v BALLYNAHINCH Rugby II XV 22

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Armagh played the last game of their 2010-11 season on Wednesday evening when they met Ballynahinch 2nd’s at Ravenhill in the final of the Millar McCall Wylie sponsored Junior Cup. This game was originally scheduled to be played on December 29th but was hastily rearranged to facilitate the snow clearing operations of the Ravenhill pitch to accommodate a Senior Team Ulster fixture.
Armagh took the field for their third game in seven days. Yet again they found themselves falling victims to the fixture congestion suffered by the sport due to the severe weather over the early months of the year.
With snow and frozen pitches all forgotten the conditions were ideal for open rugby on Wednesday evening. From the kick-off it was made very obvious that the Ballynahinch side, despite being a second fifteen, were going to no pushover. The pack were heavy yet very mobile and the brick wall defence was going to be difficult to penetrate. Time after time Armagh ran at the brick wall only to be turned over and then forced to retreat into their own form of defence. After only ten minutes play the Ballynahinch right wing scored in the corner after some deft handling. The conversion went wide but the writing was on the wall that this was going to be monumental struggle for the battle weary Armagh side. Even the normally reliable boot of Armagh’s captain, Johnny Steenson, was out of sorts when he failed to slot a simple penalty between the uprights in the twentieth minute of play.
The game looked all the more gloomy when a Ballynahinch front row forward touched down between the posts and the conversion brought the score to 12-0. To rub salt into the wound a simple interception put a Ballynahinch centre over for the simplest of tries under the Armagh posts. Again the conversation was successful to bring the score to a healthy 19-0.
At this stage of the game Armagh appeared to regain their composure and for a period of ten minutes they ‘camped’ inside the Ballynahinch ‘22’. A Ballynahinch winger was sin-binned when he intentionally knocked-on to avoid a certain Armagh try. Just before the half-time whistle another Ballynahinch player was sin-binned for a dangerously high tackle. The resulting penalty kick was accurate to leave the half time score a challenging 19-3 with three tries to zero the half-time break could not have come soon enough. Although Armagh were playing all the rugby they were playing it at a crucially slower pace due to fatigue and this was reflected on the score board. Indeed for the early part of the second half Armagh played against Ballynahinch’s thirteen men and still made hard work!
However, towards the end of the second half Armagh showed a measure of renewed determination especially when they ran a fine try down the right wing which originated from a break inside their own ‘22’. This ended with Andrew Willis touched down in the corner. Even the difficult conversion was successful to bring the score to 19-10. The last points of the game came when Armagh’s centre Andy Holmes was sin-binned for an intentional knock-on. The successful kick put the final score to 22-10.
It was poignant to see this game played with the Armagh team suffering due to their success. After all the discussions at both branch level and at club level regarding the format to be adopted for the Junior Cup tournament it seems unfair that this amount of discussion is abandoned and club fixture congestion is a factor to be ignored completely.
It has to be said that, on the night, the Ballynahinch team were the sharper, more resolute and stronger side and no amount of searching for excuses can rob them of a well deserved win on the day. However play the game without fixture fatigue and the crowd would have been all the better entertained.

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