Only a week after their close defeat at the hands of Derry, Armagh returned to league competition and a much deserved win at Barban Hill.
On paper and with enforced changes to the Dromore side this should have been a run in the park for Armagh, but on the pitch there was nothing to separate these two sides in the first half. Both teams won their scrums and challenged every line out ball making the going tough. This really was end to end rugby with skill shown in heavy conditions – the match was nearly called off as the pitch was under water earlier on in the morning!
A penalty from just inside the half way line for Dromore could have broken the deadlock, but the distance proved to be too far and the scored remained deadlocked at zero.
An unfortunate knock of heads between Pepper and De Wet Bekker saw a halt in the play and a warning as to how bad the pitch was getting.
But both players continued playing and were instrumental in containing a burgeoning Armagh pack. Despite some slips from the hand due to the muddy conditions, the half continued with end to end rugby with neither team gaining the possession and territory needed to convert their pressure into a score.
Highlights were few, but a try saving tackle from Joe Clarke surely was the stand out moment of the half, and as with last week both Timmy Clarke and Peter Elliott excelled themselves in the field and made tackles on anything that came their way.
The second half could not have been more different. If Armagh’s game plan had been defensive in the first it was all about the attack in the second.
A brilliant run by scrum half Matty Wright right down the centre of the field was the first of many runs that took Armagh down to the Dromore 10m area.
A penalty chance from Adam Gowing cleanly left his boot and sailed between the posts to make the score 3 nil in favour of the visitors.
After the restart though Dromore came back on the attack with some clean ruck ball but they stopped themselves with a mistake. This saw the ball back in Armagh hands and Andrew Willis showed a clean pair of heels ably followed by Leigh Manu to cross underneath the posts. A straight shot from Gowing and in a matter of minutes the score had stretched to 10 nil.
With the ball reset Armagh claimed it from the kick and made steady progress back to the Dromore 10m line. A small chip and chase from Willis was just held up at the line and from there Dromore started to make their way back up the field. This was helped with a penalty decision for an off the ball shoulder charge on a Dromore player. Sean Nolan, the Dromore kicker secured the 3 points to reduce the scoreline to one score.
But again the restart saw Armagh back on the attack and Willis took another chance for the chip and chase and this time he was able to touch his own ball down. For the third time Gowing evenly measured his kick and sent it sailing over to make the score 3 – 17.
The action then kicked up a gear and possession flitted from team to team, with some clever play coming from James Johnston watching the referee. After the referee indicated the ball was playable Johnston went in for an attack only to gain a penalty for a harsh rebuff from the Dromore front line. Unfortunately the decision could not be capitalised upon and Armagh then proceeded to give away a silly penalty which Nolan took the opportunity to convert.
The following ten minutes saw more action than the rest of the game put together with Willis making another run down the line to score again. Gowing kept his record intact with another 2 points and took the score to 6 – 24.
A scrum straight after the restart saw Andy Hughes making his presence felt with an excellent take to give the ball out and allow Johnny Allen and Willis take the ball all the way to the Dromore 10. A brilliant stop and clear from Dromore took the ball right the way up to the Armagh 22, were the home side took the initiative and used their rolling maul to the best of their advantage with a push over try. Even with the tight angle Nolan cleanly claimed the further 2 points and made the scoreline 13 – 24.
The referee had barely reset the teams when the Armagh charge was on for a pushover try of their own. And the run in of two backs gave the power needed to take the melee of bodies over for 5 points. When everyone had been extracted and put back on their feet, Joe Clarke was triumphant for the bonus point try, but Gowing could not convert his kick and the score leapt to 13 – 29.
This restart no-one on the sidelines had time to finish celebrating when Armagh moved right back up the pitch feeding the ball out to Willis on the wing to score his 3rd and Armagh’s 5th of the match. Again the angle was too great for Gowing to make it a full 7 and the final score ended 13 – 34.
Armagh have a quick recovery for their next match on Tuesday night against Cooke. This is the reorganised fixture from Boxing Day and sees the second of 4 fixtures in 2 weeks, but coach Andy Hughes is confident that preparations made before the season started will see the team through.