Belfast Harlequins Rugby Hat Trick: I XV v Malone Rugby, II XV v Malone & Veterans Victorious: Reports & Pictures

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Division 2
Saturday 16th April 2011
Gibson Park

Malone 6 – Quins 34
(Blake-Knox 1t, Gillespie 2t, O’Hagan 1t, O’Connor 4c, 1p, 1d)

The final AIL fixture of the season at Gibson Park, was crucial for Quins.
With Bective only 1 point behind Quins in the league table, a bonus point victory was necessary to guarantee promotion. A basic win would not be enough, if Bective themselves gained a bonus point victory at Clonakilty. Equally, even if Quins obtained a losing bonus point, they would be guaranteed a play off against the bottom Div 1 b side Bruff – in Limerick. All this theoretical gabble would be of little concern to Malone who simply wished to whop us! The respective positions of the two teams might again be of academic interest in what was foreseen to be a fiery local derby.

There was also another factor which Quins supporters were trying to put in the back of their minds – the most recent meetings between the two sides. A year ago in the March 2010 AIL match, Malone came away triumphant from Deramore with a 22 – 5 victory! Then in this season’s USL match at the end of August, again at Deramore, Malone triumphed 13 – 7!
With the exception of injured Michael Allen, and the late call-up of Neil McComb to the Ulster squad, Quins fielded a strong squad. A return to relative fitness allowed Miles O’Hagan and Michael Heaney to be selected on the bench, while Rory Blake-Knox started at full back, and Mark Kettyle at inside centre.
Weather conditions and the pitch were perfect – dry with a slight wind .
The first 15 minutes saw both possession and territorial advantage switching continually, with both sides guilty of handling errors. A penalty by Niall O’Connor was replied to by Malone to put the score at 3 – 3. A fluid pacey back movement saw Rory Blake-Knox score a great try for Quins. The conversion put Quins 10 – 3 ahead, and a beautifully struck drop goal from Niall O’Connor extended the lead to 13 -3. As half time approached a penalty from Malone reduced the advantage to 6 – 13.
Despite the opportunities missed in the latter part of the first half, Quins would not have been unduly worried. They turned round and had the advantage of a stronger wind than was against them in the first half. Quins now started to dominate play – but the necessary tries wouldn’t materialise. With not much more than 10 minutes left , Quins were playing well and running the back line smoothly. A couple of scoring opportunities came to nothing with the ball rebounding around like a golf ball in a marble hall.
The Tom-Toms sounding from Clonakilty had put Bective ahead by the same score as our own. Then finally, Quins efforts bore fruit, with the pack again driving through the Malone defence. The “inevitable” try came from Andrew Gillespie supported by the whole pack, and the conversion put Quins 6 – 20 up. While victory now seemed probable, the vision of a try bonus seemed to be receding. However, immediately from the kick-off, Malone generously threw in a handling error. With the gratefully renewed possession, the Quins pack drove towards the Malone line. Andrew Gillespie produced a replica of his first try to burrow over half way out on the left and Niall O’Connor converted to make the score 6 – 27.
While the result was not in doubt, the 4th try, with Malone in possession, was. However, as the clock ticked down, a further Malone handling error in midfield saw Quins regain possession and the ball was moved along the line. Miles O’Hagan , who had come on at full back for the injured Rory Blake-Knox, received the final pass and strode at full pelt to and over the Malone line. As he touched half way out on the left, he was surrounded by a swarm of Quins players. Promotion had been won!
Niall O’Connor’s 6th successful kick saw the final score as Malone 6 – Quins 34.

Malone kicked off and 30 seconds later the referee blew his whistle for full time.

Thus, a story book ending. The screen rights will make a bob or too – it had excitement, skill, edge of seat drama etc. The essential try with the last move of the game! The minor fact to be disregarded, was that after the game we found out that Bective had won, but had not got a bonus point! Having said that, the final try was a brilliant one. It was important as it demonstrated the spirit, never-say-die attitude, that has been embued in this squad. They set themselves a challenge, a difficult challenge, and achieved it. Well done all!
Scrums, lineouts, the loose play, the flow of the back line, silky moves, the kicking from hand and ground all deserve mention. So many players have contributed to this promotion, it is difficult to pick out any individual.
Team: Rory Blake-Knox, Roger Kirkwood, Willie Stewart, Mark Kettyle, Matt Holmes, Niall O’Connor, David Creighton, Mark McGrath, Robert Logan, Adam Macklin, Gareth Rourke, Michael Willis, Ali Heatlie, Danny Annett, Andrew Gillespie.
Bench: Michael Heaney, Miles O’Hagan, Ian Mathew, Scot Annett, Gareth Reilly

P.S. A great day out for Harlequins – our 2ndXv and Veterans XV both won at Gibson Park.

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