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After a fine Autumn week the rain fell all last Saturday. By the time Belfast High School FP kicked off in their Qualifying League match against Donaghadee, their Greenisland pitch was still playable, but getting soggier by the minute. It was obvious to all that constructive and elegant rugby was going to be difficult on the slippery surface and with the ball like a bar of soap.

The first thrusts of the game were made by the home side, with Rory Garnham and Billy Allen having to look sharp to prevent a surprise score. Seconds later another determined thrust by the High School forwards was stopped in its tracks by a storming tackle by scrum-half Alistair Lockhart. A note of caution was sounded this early on in the game when, after a tackle, Donaghadee’s centre Chris Beattie was slow to get to his feet. After some attention from the Dee physio Niall Morraghan, Beattie resumed, but he was clearly carrying a gammy leg.

When play resumed Donaghadee re-gathered and pressed into their opponents’ half. The High School’s clearance kick went right into the arms of Dee full-back Allen. A quick glance to seek out a gap and he was off. Right through the broken field he ran, and then fed the supporting Garnham whose pace took him clear and over the High School line about ten metres to the left of their posts. Paul Blewitt was only too delighted by the sudden reward of five points to his team and took little time to add the extra two. Minutes later he added another three points from a penalty kick awarded fairly far out.

At 10-0 up and only a few minutes gone the Donaghadee players were a bit surprised, but totally delighted. At this time one of the home side’s flankers had to leave the arena with an injury, not to return, and the odds on Donaghadee shortened. Perversely it was High School who appeared to be the better motivated by the numerical disadvantage and for a period they tried a number of spirited moves. But the Donaghadee defence was organised and determined with Ian Martindale, Stuart Hutchinson and Kyle Morrow catching the eye with a few body-crunching tackles.

This front-line redoubt was resolute, but Donaghadee knew they needed to keep the scoreboard clicking, and a penalty kick in their own half gave Blewitt the chance to make a touchdown in the High School red zone. A deadly accurate throw from Gareth Gordon found Martindale jumping at No. 2; he off-loaded to the ever-eager Chris Hamilton, and the Dee forwards were off. With Morrow and Phil Collins prominent the Dee surged forward. Donaghadee’s Sherman prop Chris Schofield got a sniff of the BHS goal-line and went for it. Some bone-shuddering tackles held back his progress – temporarily that it is, because he reclaimed the football and finished what he had been trying to do seconds earlier and he stormed over the goal-line in an impressive spray of water right beneath the black spot on the crossbar. Blewitt almost casually converted and Donaghadee were now a fairly comfortable 17-0 ahead.

After a few early rehearsals of their rapidly improving double act, it was Garnham and Allen who next came on to the score-sheet. A tactical kick from Blewitt seemed a little long to alarm the High School defenders, but the sheer pace of the two Dee men meant that as the High School full back gathered the ball he was hit by both skirmishers and lost his grip. Garnham managed to get a toe to the ball and Allen picked it up and scored another Donaghadee try, this time out in the corner, and just too far for Blewitt.

Now 22-0 ahead, Donaghadee might have eased the pressure, but this team has now developed a hard and unforgiving shell. As half-time approached, Garnham tried a new partner in attack with another double act – this time with his scrum-half. First a run from Lockhart, followed by another from Garnham, and finished off by the supporting Lockhart.

Spectators never hear the team talks at the interval, but it was not hard to guess what Chris Good was telling the troops/ It was probably something like “OK, we’re 27-0 ahead and have our bonus point, but I want to see more of the same in the second forty minutes.”

Young Lockhart was the first to show his captain that he was still well up for this. A ruck about forty metres from the High School line looked harmless enough, but when the Dee scrum-half saw the ball emerge he grabbed it and set off on a curving run to his right. From his first couple of steps it was clear that he knew he had the gas to run round the despairing defence, and he scorched in at the corner flag to increase his team’s total to 32-0. The conversion seemed just too much in the still-heavy rain, but Blewitt ignored the elements and increased the score to 34-0.

Two of Donaghadee’s threequarters, right wing Andrew Findlater and, especially noticeable, centre Bobby Harpur, had been having a rather quiet attacking game up to this point. Both had been putting in numerous attack-breaking tackles, but were just not getting the ball with room to do much. But suddenly a loose clearance bobbled near Finn and he was off. A penetrating run took him back in front of his forwards for them to recycle it. When they did, it was Findlater again who made the big yards. When he was finally closed down he caught a glimpse of Donaghadee flanker Chris Hamilton in support and got a clean ball to him. This terrier was by no means clear, but with some fine footwork and a lot of grunt he got to the goal-line for another try – and a new scoreline of Donaghadee 39 – BHSFP 0.

At this point High School’s hooker had to retire from the action and Donaghadee took the opportunity to rest the suffering Beattie. With only 27 players left in the unrelenting rain and now with uncontested scrums the game was effectively over. Some spectators were wondering could the referee not end the one-way game a little early whilst some others turned their attention to enjoying some toddlers diving into inviting puddles that had formed in a slight hollow near the playing pitch.

On the field the remaining warriors struggled on. Donaghadee forced their way close to the High School line. Lockhart had a go, but was held up. Good showed his approach to rugby football with a skilful pick and drive. The High School defence now only had thirteen men on-field, and this simply was not enough. Good’s irresistible force brought his team another five points and an inspiration to his team to keep going.

They did. From the restart the men in red and green stormed downfield once again. From another ruck, Lockhart broke at pace. With plenty of supporting runners to his left and right to choose from, and the merest hint of a possible pass, the gates opened and he went over for what was to be the last try and an opportunity for Blewitt to crown his team’s fine display and his own kicking role with a conversion that finished the game well and truly at 51-0.

On a pitch that had been shipping water all day this was a fine performance from Donaghadee. Next week sees the visit to Donaghadee by City of Derry II in the Junior Cup – not an everyday game for either side, but with this competition now having a sudden-death knock-out format it should be a most exciting game. Donaghadee is certainly up for it; maybe many of you reading this will be too.

Donaghadee RFC won Donaghadee team: Billy Allen, Chris Beattie, Bobby Harpur, Andrew Findlater, Rory Garnham; Paul Blewitt, Alistair Lockhart, Chris Schofield, Gareth Gordon, Chris Good (c), Kyle Morrow, Phil Collins, Stuart Hutchinson, Chris Hamilton and Ian Martindale.

This Saturday

First XV v Derry II at Donaldson Park and Third XV at home to Carrick V, both games to kick off at 2.30pm.

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