City of Armagh Thirds through to Forster Cup Final
City of Armagh Third XV hosted Portadown in the semi final of the Forster cup on Saturday with both teams keen to secure a place in the Final at the Kingspan Stadium.
Armagh kicked off and from the outset, the tone of the game was set with strong running and big tackles from both sides. The large crowd were set for an exciting local derby match. A great turnover by the forwards saw Armagh attack the blue line of Portadown. Time and time again Portadown defended resolutely and a rare error by Armagh saw Portadown clear their lines and they managed to reach the Armagh 22. The visitors then had a period of pressure and it was time for Armagh to defend their line. Several promising Portadown attacks where stopped by the hard work of Lutton, Bassett, Gilpin and Wallace.
Portadown were awarded a penalty in front of the posts which they kicked for a 3-0 lead. This spurred the Armagh team to raise their game and with half backs Girvan and Dougan working well with clean ruck ball, Matthew Clarke took a great line and great hands saw James Rolston go in for the first try of the game. The conversion was missed but Armagh now led 5-3.
From the restart, Armagh cleared the pressure and from a lineout on halfway, the ball was turned over and again Matthew Clarke broke the line. The supporting Joe Clarke scored in the corner for centre Clarke to add the extras. As halftime approached, Portadown threatened the Armagh line again, however the home side defended strongly with tireless tackles from Finlay, Fletcher and Rolston and a knock on saw the end of the first half with the scoreline,12-3 to Armagh.
The second half started at the same tempo as the first with neither team giving anything away. Armagh’s back line was growing more into the game with Geoffrey Dougan controlling play and strong running from Bingham in particular. Play was brought into the Portadown 22 and scrum half, Trevor Girvan spotted a gap to sneak in to score under the posts. Clarke slotted over the easy conversion.
Portadown had to resort to kicking for territory every time they got the ball but David Spratt was in good form at fullback and a constant threat with his darting runs. Further pressure from Armagh then paid off following a five metre scrum. Clean ball saw Dougan hit centre Clarke on a hard line an he was under the sticks for a converted try to make the score 26-3 to Armagh.
A yellow card to Armagh’s Joe Clarke allowed Portadown to use the extra man and they exerted pressure now in the Armagh half. They were rewarded for their efforts with two tries to close the gap between the teams to 26-13.
With a few minutes remaining, a lineout on the Portadown 22 gave the home team good field position and a few phases later the ball reached Sam Knipe who squeezed in at the corner to complete the scoring in the match.
Final score, Armagh 31, Portadown 13.
Armagh Thirds will now face Malone 4s on Saturday 22 April in the Final at the Kingspan Stadium with a 4.30pm kick off. All local support will be very much welcome.
Next week sees the Thirds travel to Limavady hoping to retain their unbeaten run and top spot in the league.
City of Armagh Under 14s win Ulster League title
Armagh U14’s finished their season undefeated in the league with 14 straight wins. An excellent achievement which gave them home advantage in the league playoffs. In the semi-final, they defeated a strong Omagh team 22-0 to set up a league final decider against Virginia from Co Cavan to earn the right to be named Ulster champions.
Armagh had never won this competition before at this level and had a chance to make history. The final was played on the 4G surface at the Mid Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown. Armagh where boosted by the appearance of RJ McCall who after some intensive physio after the semi-final, was declared fit to start. Virginia began the game playing the more enterprising rugby and putting some sustained pressure on the Armagh defence.
Armagh were slow to get into gear but after turnover ball, captain James Crummie drove forward to cross the Virginia line and secure first score to the Armagh boys. Unfortunately they were unable to convert the try and the score remained 5-0. The huge travelling support for Armagh could visibly see an increase in the team’s work-rate and Virginia where now beginning to feel the pressure as the young Armagh team started to find their rhythm. Scrum half Ben Reynolds and out-half Jack Fox where starting to pull the strings and with a solid scrum the signs where good.
Midway through the first half, Chris Qua picked up a pass on the left wing and broke free to touch down behind the posts. Jack Fox converted to give Armagh a 12-0 lead. With continued pressure they were unable to add to this score before half time.
Virginia came out strong in the second half but Armagh’s defence was holding firm. After some free flowing passing, Peter McGrane set off on one of his amazing runs, jinking past four defenders down the right wing. As the field opened up for what looked a certain third try, the touch judge however raised his flag for a foot in touch.
The second half was proving a very even battle and as Wednesday night’s semi began to take its toll, Virginia put on a sustained attack down the right wing to cross the whitewash for their opening try which they failed to convert. Both teams pressed hard and it was Virginia who came closest in the dying minutes to scoring but where denied by an excellent try saving tackle by Jack Fox. With the referee calling last play on Armagh’s scrum, it was left to Peter McGrane to find touch to the delight of all the Armagh team & supporters.
This was a tremendous achievement from the young under 14s and great credit not only to the team on the day but also to the squad in depth who have went through the whole season winning 17 straight competitive games. Congratulations to the players and all the coaches involved.
Armagh Under 18s retain their Ulster League title.
The magnificent Armagh under 18 team retained their title as the best youth side in Ulster when they defeated a gallant Virginia side from County Cavan in the final on Saturday at the Mid Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown. The game was played in lovely conditions for rugby and Armagh started in determined fashion by not allowing Virginia any possession of the ball. Strong carries by Barry Finn and Paul Mullan made great dents in the Virginia defence and it was inevitable that their possession would lead to a converted score by Cormac Fox. Cormac has played senior rugby this year for Armagh and has not looked out of place at all and his partnership with scrum half Nathan Rogers controlled the game all day.
Despite the fact that there was a high penalty count against Armagh, their forwards were on top and supplied some well controlled ball to the three quarters. It was not long before they crossed the Virginia line again, this time through great support play by Niall McKee. Cormac again converted to leave Armagh firmly in control after 20 minutes. An enterprising move by both backs and forwards led to another converted try this time by Tiernan O’Neil. As half time approached it was obvious that Armagh were very determined to push ahead.
Halftime Armagh 21 Virginia 0
A backlash was expected from Virginia and they came out very determined to show that they were a side worthy of playing in such a prestigious final. They worked hard at defending their line but unfortunately lost some key players through injury. After 5 minutes of defending their own line Fox decided to calm the situation down with a penalty in front of the posts. With their dominance up front, where Barry Finn and his pack were outstanding it was no surprise when there were further scores from Niall McKee who completed his hat-trick of scores and Sam McClelland who sped over for another well executed try. Cormac converted to bring his tally to 20 points. Credit to the youthful Virginia team who scored a consolation try and conversion to leave the final score 45-7. It would be hard to pick out a man of the match as there were so many contributions from Armagh. Cormac Fox had 20 points himself and controlled the game magnificently, Barry Finn, Paul Mullan and Ryan Morton terrorised the Virginia defence but the ubiquitous Niall McKee is so underrated at times. To score three tries in a final shows how super fit he is.
It is unfair really to pick out individuals as this is a real team who have played together for 5 years now. Their abilities and dedication are a credit to themselves and their parents. They have been mentored by Antoine Finn, ably assisted by Gervais O’Brien and Ian Donnelly. Special mention should be made of Kyle Gallagher who, after a break from rugby, fought his way back into the team and who unfortunately has broken a bone in his leg and will no longer be able to play this season.
So another great day and season to date for Armagh’s under 18s, winning every game this season except a friendly against the Royal School. The Club also has to acknowledge the fine effort the young Virginia team put up and such great effort in not just getting to the finals but contributing to such a fine occasion. To get three teams into the respective finals is a wonderful achievement from a club in a non-rugby area. Credit too should be given to the officials of the Ulster Branch, the referee Stephen Crooke and especially the hard working Towy Neale from the Youth committee who all contributed to such a great occasion. The team now looks forward to the cup and the Nutty Crust tournament in Portadown.
MU Barnhall RFC 18 City of Armagh RFC 22
City of Armagh travelled to play MU Barnhall in Kildare on Saturday and successfully negotiated another away win in Division 2B.
Armagh dominated the first quarter but found the Barnhall defence much tighter than in the game at Armagh. An early chance of 3 points was missed by the visitors who found themselves penalised frequently at the breakdown. The break-through did come on 25 minutes with the referee sending a Barnhall prop to the sin bin for killing the ball and Armagh kicked to the corner. The forwards secured the lineout and drove towards the Barnhall line. Scrum half Doyle popped the ball to winger Andrew Willis and he used his strength to power over for an unconverted try.
With the visitors 5 nil in front, they found themselves a man down when James Morton received a yellow card for a ruck infringement. The home team took full advantage and Simon Gillespie kicked a penalty to open Barnhall’s account at 3-5. Barnhall then took the lead five minutes before halftime, when winger Ben McCarthy touched down in the corner following a well-timed cut-out pass on the Armagh 22. Gillespie kicked a superb conversion from the touchline for a 10-5 lead which they held to the interval.
Armagh started the second half in determined fashion and scored a try two minutes after the restart. A penalty was kicked to touch and after a number of phases, Daryl Morton made a storming run and crossed for a try by the posts for Harvey Young to convert and the visitors now led 10-12.
Barnhall then dominated the third quarter with Armagh having to defend
sustained pressure from the home team who were having their best match of the season. Midway through the second period the Armagh forwards put Barnhall on the back foot with some good driving play. Flanker James Hanna then spotted a gap in the home defence and broke through from the 22 to score at the posts. Young converted the score to put the visitors ahead 19-10.
Barnhall raised their game for the last quarter eager to get something out of the match. A series of penalties gave them territory in the Armagh half and a quick tap penalty saw Harry Doyle sent to the sin bin for not retreating 10 yards. Gillespie kicked the resultant penalty to close the gap to 19-13. Armagh were then awarded a penalty on the Barnhall 22 which Young converted, after the referee over-ruled the touch judges, to stretch Armagh ahead 22-13.
Barnhall however were to finish the match strongly and with five minutes remaining the home team were rewarded when winger McCarthy scored his second try of the day, taking advantage of some poor Armagh defending. With the conversion missed, Barnhall ended the match camped on the Armagh line but the visitors managed to hold out for a valuable victory.
City of Armagh returned home with 4 points and share top spot in the league with Greystones with 3 games remaining. Their next match in the All Ireland League is a derby game at home to Dungannon on March 25th.