City Of Armagh Rugby Club: I XV 11 v Rainey Old Boys RFC I XV 0

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Saturday saw Armagh travel to Magherafelt to play Rainey Old Boys in the Ulster senior League. This was to be Armagh’s last game of 2011 and so far their first season since returning to senior rugby was proving to be somewhat fraught! Having failed to win a game since the October fixture with Sligo the team all knew that with the exception of the defeat against Barnhall this series of losses was due to silly errors rather than any core shortcoming within the squad.
However, with this stigma weighing heavily on the minds of all the Armagh supporters the trip to Rainey did not bode well since the Magherafelt team were lying second in the All Ireland League whereas Armagh were seen to be floundering down the table in twelfth position. As the Rainey side kicked off with a slight breeze at their backs the body language of the Armagh side somehow looked different. From the first ruck it was obvious that the had not come to Magherafelt on a shopping trip! Team coach, Andy Hughes, had instilled a whole new dynamic into the side since the last game against Ballynahinch.
Again, the Armagh side was battling a much heavier pack, but to a large extent, the plethora of handling errors and other silly mistakes were less evident. Indeed, following the serious amount of rainfall the heavy pitch conditions appeared to suit the lighter more mobile Armagh forwards. The visiting team were beginning to dominate all aspects of the game and were showing little respect for their past record! This was amply illustrated when team captain, Phil Hill, made a spirited break down the centre to gain a good 30 metres ground. The ball was off-loaded to out-half, James McBriar, who landed a fine touch in the left corner. From the following line-out Armagh stole the ball and formed a beautifully controlled rolling maul to allow Tinus Van Wyk score. The conversion went wide in the freshening breeze but after only 13 minutes Armagh were, for once, looking strong again! Before the half time break, however, Armagh were penalised twice for rucking offences and on each occasion Rainey’s kick to touch forced Armagh to ‘dig deep’ on their own line. Both attacks were repelled and both Rainey’s trips into the Armagh’22’ were fruitless. Just before the break, however, a home defender was penalised for failing to release an Armagh back following a tackle. McBriar was, again, on target to put the half-time score to 0-8.
The second half kicked off with the, now freshening, breeze on the visitor’s backs. This undoubtedly assisted Armagh to repeatedly pin Rainey inside their own ’22’ to defend. Repeatedly Armagh’s man of the match Tinus Van Wyk made breaks deep into Rainey territory and with strong off-loading the home team were under almost continual pressure the entire second half.
In the dying minutes of the game, however, Armagh were penalised for ‘crossing’ just 35 metres in front of their posts. The kick went wide and the game was effectively closed down when McBriar landed a penalty from just inside his own half. The final whistle saw the score at 0-11. That zero scoreline certainly was imperative to Armagh and they can now safely feel that they were never going to loose this game although both sides played 80 minutes of very entertaining, & open rugby undoubtedly the stronger side won at the end of the day!
It was encouraging for the Armagh supporters to face the homeward journey with a win under their belts for once. The victory was secured only with the commitment and effort from all fifteen players, five substitutes, coaching and field team. Indeed, the Armagh club should not forget that on the neighbouring pitch the club second fifteen scored an even more resounding victory when the defeated Rainey second’s by 7-32!
The first fifteen team now face a four week rest before they face League topping Cashel at The Palace Grounds on January 28th. Although the Munster side do hold the top position Saturday’s defeat of Rainey will still be fresh in the Armagh memory & with the home venue advantage will surely boost the City side into a strong performance as they are certainly back with the will to win in 2012!

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