Hard won bonus point at Randalstown
The rigours of the midweek Towns Cup game were obvious as Bangor made hard work of their away game at Randalstown. Despite securing a bonus point victory, they conceded 3 soft tries to their determined opponents, finally winning by 27-31.
With little time for recovery and five changes in the team that produced the upset of the Towns Cup by beating Portadown on Tuesday night, Bangor were obviously not looking for another hard game at Randalstown, especially as they had comprehensively beaten the County Antrim men at the start of the season. However, the combination of Bangor’s mediocre performance and Randalstown’s need for league points produced a much closer game than might have been expected.
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Normal service looked on the cards, as Bangor kicked off and immediately went on the offensive, producing good attacking moves, and were only denied in the opening minutes by poor handling and sound defence. Randalstown’s determination to contest every ball, and tackle hard at each breakdown, resulted in an unfortunate injury to their number 8 after just 5 minutes. To lose such an important player so early in the game was a blow to the home side, and was immediately seized upon at the next set piece. Curtis Stewart picked up from the back of the scrum and started off on one of his characteristic runs. Good back-up and handling by Ben Worthington and Nick Hatton kept the ball alive before passing to Mike Aspley who squeezed over in the right hand corner for the first score of the game. Jason Morgan’s conversion attempt from the touchline was missed, but Bangor were ahead by 0-5.
Randalstown’s forwards by now were re-organised and were coping well, despite being a man down. In fact, it was the home side that was applying all the pressure, with Bangor seemingly unable to make the extra man count. With 15 minutes of play gone, Randalstown had a penalty attempt from the half way line which just fell short. Their next scoring opportunity came a further 10 minutes later when another penalty was conceded by Bangor, much closer to their line. This time the kick was successful, closing the gap to 3-5.
However, just a few minutes later, Bangor produced their reply when Darren Lyttle produced a strong run down the left wing to score in the corner. Again the conversion was missed, but Bangor’s lead was extended to 3-10.
Bangor’s lineout was functioning more consistently today, and from a ball won by Richard Corbett, Stewart once more set off down the left hand side. The ball was then switched quickly across to the right, where it found Jamie Foulkes who had the pace to leave the Randalstown defence stranded, and also the awareness to run the ball back under the posts for Morgan to have an easier conversion kick. With the score now 3-17, things started to look a bit more settled.
Randalstown, though, are a hard team to put down, and as the first half went into injury time (of which there was a lot), they won a penalty close to Bangor’s line. Their pick and drive came close but Bangor’s defence dug in well to deny the score. The play then see-sawed to Randalstown’s twenty two, and Bangor won a penalty. Although in a kickable position, Bangor decided to run the ball, but this proved fruitless and, as the referee blew for half time, the score stood at 3-17.
As the second half got underway, Randalstown now had the advantage of the slope, and set about using it to keep play in Bangor’s twenty two. Having just narrowly missed out on a try scoring opportunity, they added another penalty score after 6 minutes to make it 6-17.
Bangor’s forwards continued to graft hard, and thought they had scored again when Stewart forced his way over from a ruck on the Randalstown line. However, somewhat questionably, this was judged to have been a double movement and was disallowed. Undeterred, the Bangor men soon found themselves in almost the same position, and this time Paddy Dornan made no mistake, scoring Bangor’s fourth try and securing the bonus point in the process. Morgan’s kick was good, extending the lead to 6-24, with 15 minutes gone.
With this healthy lead, the expectation was that Bangor would close out the game, and hopefully add to their points tally. However, a loose Bangor pass in their own twenty two gifted an intercept for Randalstown who had the easiest of run-ins to score close to the posts. With the extras, they had been handed a lifeline, and the score moved to 13-24.
Just 2 minutes later, the passing error that had cost the first try, was compounded by equally poor tackling which allowed the Randalstown attack to shrug off the Bangor defence and score another soft try, again close to the posts. The conversion brought the score to 20-24, and suddenly the game looked wide open.
An important aspect of Bangor’s game this season has been to stick to their guns and play as they know they can, and this was the case once more when the backline produced a simple, but well executed break where Morgan broke clear before passing to Matt Leebody who held off the covering defender to score to the right of the posts. With Morgan’s kick added, the lead was restored to the more comfortable level of 20-31, with a quarter of the match remaining.
Then, just 10 minutes later, Randalstown’s injury woes returned with another player having to leave the field of play. Having no doubt felt they had been dealt a poor hand, tempers started to flare and an argument between the forwards got out of hand resulting in a player from each side getting a yellow card, and playing no further part in the game. As a result of the Randalstown men now being reduced to 13 men, their desperate attacking and associated tackling led to yet another injury. With the clock running down, and no prospect of victory, many sides would have given up at this stage. However, to Randalstown’s credit, they knew that another score would result in a losing bonus point for them. With this obviously in their minds, and Bangor’s apparent acceptance of having secured the victory, Randalstown took play once more to Bangor’s line, where they managed to drive through the resulting ruck and score their third try. The successful conversion marked the end of the game, bringing the final score to 27-31, and a bonus point for both sides.
This was a lack-lustre performance by Bangor, but they can take heart that even under these circumstances they can come away with 5 points and maintain their ambitions in the league. For Randalstown’s part, they thoroughly deserved their consolation bonus point, especially given the injuries they suffered throughout the game and their dogged determination to never give up. Bangor can now look forward to hosting Enniskillen at Upritchard Park next Saturday, and reversing the result they had when they met earlier in the season.
Bangor team: B Worthington, P Dornan, J Harrison, R Corbett, D Lyttle, N Hatton, S Gilliland, C Stewart, R Armstrong (c), J Morgan, J Foulkes, M Aspley, M Leebody, P Gray, C Morgan
Bangor scores: M Aspley (1T), D Lyttle (1T), J Foulkes (1T), P Dornan (1T), M Leebody (1T), J Morgan (3C)