A result that will probably have most Qualifying League followers within the clubs stunned, as ‘Skins toppled the unbeaten League Two leaders, and in the process battered them for seventy-five minutes. Much like Ireland’s demolition of England the previous week many were heard wondering where did that came from, but just like the Carrick game a few weeks back, ‘Skins showed their full potential.
The victory was all the more special given that ‘Skins were forced into four personnel and one positional changes from the side that faced Omagh the week before and indeed with a plague of injuries sweeping through the club the line-up that took the field was only finalised late the Friday evening before the game and could have changed again as ultimate hero Mark O’Shea looked doubtful right up to kick-off time having tweaked his groin in the warm up.
The game didn’t start well for ‘Skins as they found themselves down 0 – 5 on the opening play having turned the ball over in midfield. CI were the beneficiaries of a lucky pass but despite one excellent tackle on the wing, the support player was there to cross for an unconverted try.
‘Skins however responded immediately from the restart, winning a penalty practically on the halfway line and debutant fullback Chris McVitty coolly stroked a great kick over to settle both himself and the team, despite senior member Crawford Little’s cry of “not a hope in hell”!
‘Skins then edged ahead on eight minutes when some ill-discipline in the CI ranks caused the referee to march two consecutive penalties ten metres closer and McVitty gratefully accepted the invitation to kick his second penalty.
The game started to swing ‘Skins way as the forwards showed no fear of their bigger opposition and they extended their lead as the game entered the second quarter. A great driving maul off a lineout was marched twenty metres down the field and when the ball was fed to the backs O’Shea showed the pace in the centre that has been lacking in recent games to turn a two v three situation into a try as he simply run past his opposite number, backing his own ability. McVitty was again successful and the lead was now 13 – 5.
‘Skins tails were up and they run CI ragged in the twenty minutes to halftime. First, James McIntyre, playing probably his best game in a ‘Skins jersey, sidestepped three men to create a huge gap for scrum half Ricky Connor to exploit. Unfortunately Connor was too quick for even his own team-mates and when scragged close to the CI line held onto the ball a moment too long. Another score wasn’t far away however and four minutes later it came, and again it was that man O’Shea who set things in motion as he cut through the visitors’ defence with some ease. The indefatigable Gavin Parke was first man there to take the ball, and when he was stopped just short of the line quick re-cycled ball presented Ally Duncan with an open field to score the second try, which McVitty again converted to push ‘Skins to a 20 – 5 lead.
CI passed up a glorious chance to reduce the lead shortly after when what looked a simple penalty was screwed wide and shortly after ‘Skins added their third try. CI had been pressing but some excellent defence from the hosts, pushing up quickly on their opposite numbers, forced a fumble which stand-in skipper Trevor Whitaker hacked upfield, where a kind bounce on the firm surface saw the ball fall kindly into the arms of the rushing O’Shea and he sprinted clear to score in the shadow of the posts, leaving McVitty with the simplest of conversions and a 27 – 5 halftime lead.
CI’s coaching team obviously had some harsh words for the troops during the break and they came at ‘Skins early in the second period determined to make amends and after some good ball retention and hard direct running landed a penalty to reduce the lead to 27 – 8.
‘Skins however were not about to sit back and let CI back into the game and after McVitty missed a penalty after eight minutes the fourth, and bonus point, try came. O’Shea was again at the heart of things with yet another great run, looking to force an opening and when the ball was fed to McVitty he placed a neat chip over the defensive line and recovered to drive for the line. Whitaker was in support and some nice interchange of passes ended with the skipper scoring the try to make the scoreline a very eye-catching 32 – 8, stunning the large CI support into silence.
The game entered a bit of a scrappy, fractious, period which saw two yellow cards, one for each side, five minutes apart, and with ‘Skins starting to wilt a little after the exertions to that point they could not capitalise on their advantage, but their defensive work snuffed out any opportunities the visitors might have sensed.
With five minutes left in regulation time CI finally broke ‘Skins defence following a bullocking run by their big second rower, and despite forcing a turnover, ‘Skins immediately gave possession away with the converted try following.
The score was 32 – 15 as the forty minutes ended, but with injuries no one was quite sure just how long was left to play. CI continued to press looking to restore some pride and perhaps a grandstand finish and despite some excellent defensive work collectively another converted try for the visitors resulted, to narrow the gap, and when a penalty was presented to them five minutes later, they gratefully took the opportunity to secure a losing bonus point as the match ended 32 – 25.
It would be hugely unfair to single out any one man as the team performed as a collective, but perhaps given the fitness doubts prior to kick off the contribution by Mark O’Shea would edge him as man of the match. Inside him the distribution of Connor, McIntyre and Paul Burns gave him every advantage which he accepted with both hands.
Everyone contributed to what was the result of the season to date but the forwards, given the size advantage the visitors held, were magnificent from 1 to 8. The set pieces worked well and they were rarely under pressure, but defensively the tackling was superb and the introduction of Darren Watson, Richie Grey and Johnny Wright into the pack was seamless with everyone playing a huge role.
Team: Alan Ferguson, Darren Watson, Gareth Beatty, Richie Grey, David Buchanan, Johnny Wright, Gavin Parke, Jamie Johnston, Ricky Connor, James McIntyre, Ally Duncan, Paul Burns, Mark O’Shea, Trevor Whitaker, Chris McVitty.
1st XV – Away – Carrick
2nd XV – Away – Cooke
Under-17s – Away – Carrick (11:30 kick-off)
Mini Rugby – Away – Clogher Valley