After the excitement of Banbridge’s Senior Cup final game against Ballymena nearly three weeks earlier, this Ulster League match at Shaw’s Bridge was always going to be a low-key affair.
Both teams fielded well short of full strength but it was Banbridge who showed up the better in the early stages, with their attacks demonstrating the greater cohesion and bite.
The opening score was initiated by Andy Brown’s dynamic run off the back of a scrum just inside the Bann half. The move was taken on by Andrew Morrison and Andrew Kirkwood and when Robin Thompson received the re-cycled ruck ball his tidy cross-field kick was collected by Stephen Cowan, with the full-back crossing under the posts. Thompson’s conversion took Bann seven points clear.
Ryan Patterson has been in impressive form since his return from injury and the flanker picked up Bann’s second try with another barnstorming run as Instonians struggled to cope with the loss of two yellow-carded players towards the end of the first half. With Thompson again adding the extras and converting a penalty in between the tries, Bann were comfortably ahead at the break.
But with Instonians restored to full strength early in the second half it was Bann’s turn to suffer a numerical handicap after prop Michael Cromie had been yellow-carded for a technical offence at a ruck. Instonians converted the resulting penalty and with both sides taking full advantage of the twelve substitutions allowed play became fragmented.
Bann had an opportunity to stretch their lead when Michael Johnston, in his first game after a prolonged break through injury, took clean lineout ball inside the opposition “22” to feed Simon McKinstry. The skipper drove towards the Instonians line to set up a ruck. The ball was moved right and when John Porter picked up a wayward pass he did well to come back and link with his threequarters down the left flank. The final pass to Brown went to ground when a score looked inevitable.
Richard Finlay came off the bench for his first appearance in Bann’s senior side for nearly two seasons. And but for his solid tackle Instonians would have picked up a try midway through the second half, as the Bann defence started to creak, possibly as a result of the numerous changes.
The home side did finally, and deservedly, break through 11 minutes from the end, scoring a converted try to leave them within striking distance of Bann’s tally. But the game petered out in the fading December light, leaving Bann with their second win from seven Ulster League games.
After the mid-season break, coach Daniel Soper will have been glad to see his side return to action with a win, even if the display was at best patchy. But on the positive side Finlay looked sharp when in possession, either at full-back or out-half where he featured towards the end of the game. Patterson was the outstanding forward on the field and Porter did well with the few chances that came his way.
Bann have three friendly games before the crucial AIL match against Nenagh at the end of the month. Malone away on Friday (7.30pm ko), Queen’s at home on 14th and Old Wesley away on 21st should see the team well prepared for the game in Tipperary which could make or break their season.