The business end of the season is upon us as far as Kukri Qualifying League 2 is concerned. Tuesday night saw the visit of league leaders CIYMS 1st XV to Donaghadee 1st XV, with both teams pushing for the league title as well as one of the two automatic promotion places available.
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Donaghadee started the first half down the slope and quickly put CI on the back foot. A couple of straight forward penalties gave the Dee a six point lead before they added to their tally with a well taken try. The Dee scrum half used the slope to his advantage with a grubber through the defensive line that caught CI flat-footed, allowing one of the Dee outside backs to win the race for the touchdown.
With the conversion added, the sides then traded penalties to leave the score at 16-3 to Donaghadee after 20mins. CI looked a little shell-shocked and their coaching staff were showing concern at the same indiscipline that had seen their team lose their unbeaten record to Enniskillen the week before. However, you do not become a bad team overnight and CI started to show why they had already won 13 games this season. It was now their turn to keep possession and look to put Donaghadee on the back foot. Some fine handling and a probing kick took CI into the Dee 22. The subsequent lineout saw CI flanker Scott take the ball from a set move at the back of the lineout before crashing over to reduce the deficit, 16-10.
CI finished the half strongly and continued to move their opponents around the park with a combination of good hands and direct running. They added a couple of penalties to their tally before half time to leave the score at 16-16 at the interval. Both teams re-gathered at the break with the now sizeable crowd anticipating a hotly contested second half. After such a slow start it was perhaps CI who were happier to go in level at half time, knowing they would have the advantage of the slope in the second period.
CI started the second half with similar tactics to those that had served them well in the latter stages of the first. They looked to force the ball up with the pack and secured quick ball that allowed their backs to increasingly come more into the game. Some dynamic running in the Dee 22 combined with a missed tackle at the crucial moment saw one of the CI forwards find a gap and ground the ball for a try despite some strong cover tackling on the line. They added the conversion and two penalties shortly after to leave the score at 29-16.
It was now Dees turn, roared on by their home crowd to look to make a comeback. They did so, in what was increasingly becoming a vastly entertaining affair. Their forwards looked to use their strong maul and kept CI on their toes by picking up around the fringes of the rucks. The scrums were also well contested with CI winning a couple against the head and Dee also getting the shove on at times. The Dee three quarters were quick to capitalise on a CI error in midfield with their right wing showing his pace before off-loading inside to a support runner who round the posts to respond in ideal fashion with a 7 pointer, 29-23.
CI began to dominate possession and added two tries as the Donaghadee pack began to tire. Firstly the CI out half McComb, found a gap after a nice show of the ball and stumbled his way over the Donaghadee line to score before adding the conversion. With the Dee number seven sent to the bin after one penalty too many, CI looked to up the tempo. Some strong running by CI prop Steff Rodgers saw him break through a number of tackles before scoring a superb try in the corner and secure what may prove to be a very important bonus point for CI.
The Dee again responded by moving the ball wide and their right wing gassed in for the try which was not converted to leave the score at 41-28. With a crucial game coming up against Ballyclare and with three tries under their belts, Donaghadee now looked for a fourth try which could also bring them within 7 points and secure two bonus points.
CI were lucky not to lose a man to the bin after what looked a fairly dangerous tackle and the Dee pinned them back to near their line. The visitors were keen to avoid Dee getting any points of the game and also to avoid a nervy last week minutes by conceding any more points. A couple of 5 metre lineouts and mauls were well broken up and good defensive scrums ensured CI held out for the bonus point win. Final score 41-28, a great win for CI who produced both a solid and creative performance up front, teo crowd greatly enjoyed the game which offered much for both sets of supporters and any neutrals assembled.
This win sees CI top the table with only one defeat and has all but secured their promotion. They will look to push on for the league title. The sides will face each other again later this month in a rescheduled fixture and Dee will be keen to get revenge. Both sides will also face Ballyclare in the final run in who also have an outside chance of promotion.