The last Saturday of the Ulster League season saw Instonians and Banbridge provide a feast of tries at Shaw’s Bridge, with the home side coming out on top by a 10-8 margin.
With Instonians’ front row resources severely depleted through injury and unavailability, they had already conceded the league points to the visitors before the action began. But if the scrums were uncontested from the outset, the other exchanges appeared to have lost none of the edge that is traditional between the sides.
Had they been contesting the points, Instonians would have been well pleased with an interval lead of 26-5, comprised of four tries that would have earned a bonus point. Matthew Wright scorched in for the opener after just five minutes play, with Gary Clotworthy converting.
Bann hit back seven minutes later, with their forward strength enabling Matthew Irvine to force his way over from close range.
But the Inst backs looked dangerous from anywhere on the pitch and Adam Telford finished off after a move which started from a scrum on the halfway line. Before the interval arrived Wright had claimed his hat-trick, with the uncontested set scrum providing the platform on both occasions, from 70 metres and 60 metres range respectively.
Craig Mulholland’s try under the posts, converted by Neville Farr, from a quickly taken penalty, got Bann’s second half off to a better start. But the reply was instant, with Ali Andress taking advantage of an AWOL defence to touch down straight from the re-start.
Inst then repeated the trick from Bann’s re-start, Wright finishing off and Keith Rossan converting.
Taking a leaf from the opposition’s book, the Bann threequarters showed they were no mere extras as they conjured up a fine try for winger Chris Leathem. Irvine’s tap penalty on the half-way line then created the space for Ashley Finlay to add Bann’s fourth touchdown.
Bann’s fifth was arguably the pick of the scores. Paul Ross chased back to field a long kick close to his “22” before transferring inside to Leathem. The winger chipped delicately over the heads of the chasing Inst players and re-gathered the ball to make ground. Jonny Murphy’s run took play close the Inst “22” and Geoff Thompson was in support, making inroads deeper into Inst territory before finding Alan Gibson with the scoring pass.
Another Wright try restored Inst’s advantage. But Jonny Little took advantage of a deft one-handed off-load from James Andrews to touch down under the posts, Mulholland converting, before setting up Thompson for a try which brought the tally to 43-41 with 15 minutes remaining.
Three Inst tries in eight minutes, through Wright, Telford and Gavin Harper, put the result beyond doubt, with Chris Allen’s late score for the visitors providing a mere footnote to an immensely entertaining game.
Bann took the opportunity to give a first senior outing to U-19 out-half Andrew Morrison and he grasped the opportunity with both hands as he showed the distribution skills and tackling qualities that will surely see him push for a starting place next season.
In the centre Andrews showed the power that might well have earned him more appearances in the Firsts over the season and his combination with Gibson suggested that the latter will also feature more regularly in next season’s AIL squad.