Kukri Qualifying 2: Carrickfergus 12 Donaghadee 38

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Saturday 20th March. Harry Allen reports.

After their great runs in both Junior and Towns’ Cups had ended, and having recently suffered a serious league defeat to CIYMS in the League, Donaghadee went to Carrickfergus last Saturday feeling like they needed a solid victory to pull their season back together. With scrum half Alastair Lockhart and centre Gavin Gordon unavailable, player coach Ian Martindale returned after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Donaghadee’s antipodean utility back Bobby Harper slotted into scrum half and winger Andrew Findlater returned to the team.  The forwards welcomed back props Chris Schofield and Gareth Gordon and were able to play Stuart Hutchinson as flanker, thus allowing Richard Millar to partner Martindale in the backs.

Donaghadee kicked off with a slight wind advantage. The rustiness that was evident against CIYMS was showing signs of polish as Donaghadee drove the Carrick forwards back to their own five-metre line. This territorial advantage was soon matched by the scrummage power. As soon as they had demonstrated their dominance they provided quick ball for centre Ian Martindale to break the Carrick defence and release Millar on a run into the Carrick twenty two. When this attack broke down, the returning tight-head prop Schofield showed that he was hungry to carry ball in the loose. When over-eagerness forced Carrick to concede an early penalty Millar took his opportunity well to give the Dee an early 3 – 0 lead.

From the kick-off prop Gareth Gordon won the scramble for the ball, and his supporting forwards fed it smoothly to Paul Blewitt. . The outside-half learned a valuable early lesson when the surprising strength of the wind carried his speculative kick from his own half on and on and over the dead-ball line. Buoyed up by the resulting sixty-metre carry-back and scrum, Carrick employed their Number 8 Andy Kinkaid to drive towards the Dee twenty two. His supporting forwards laid siege to the Dee line switching the play several times from left to right to probe the Dee defence. Although Carrick repeatedly tried to breach the Donaghadee cover, their efforts were not rewarded with any tangible success.

The referee at around this point let it be known that there were far too many players slowing down the release of the ball at rucks and mauls. Minutes later it was Donaghadee’s flanker Stuart Hutchison who suffered the almost-inevitable punishment of ten minutes in the sin bin for that very offence. Their now-numerical advantage not only took them quickly to ten metres from the Dee line. When they were awarded a scrum it was miraculously the Dee forwards who turned over possession. Their scrum half Bobby Harper quickly released his right winger Rory Garnham to take play up to the Carrick ten metre line, although by then the retreating Carrick defence was able to forestall any danger.

Minutes later the Dee let their opponents know that a driving vanguard is not the only way to attack. When Carrick put away a long kick to exert pressure its direction was a little wayward. This gave Donaghadee’s full-back Allen time to watch the ball in its flight, assess the attack possibilities and then make the catch at pace and pierce the early cover. When the second line of defence crowded in about thirty metres out, Allen’s pass found player/coach Ian Martindale in storming, unstoppable support. Millar’s conversion then took Donaghadee’s lead to 10-0.

This score had come somewhat against the run of play as Carrick had been dominating the territory and possession for a while. When the Dee’s second row Davy Thompson gathered the kick off it appeared that all the momentum had changed. Donaghadee’s forwards quickly recycled the ball for Blewitt to take play up to the Carrick ten metre line. Allen, Martindale and Chris Hamilton combined to create another try-scoring opportunity only for a Dee player to stray offside. The resulting penalty took play up to the Dee five metre line where Carrick won a lineout. Good possession and a combined drive sucked in too many Dee defenders and Carrick’s very impressive scrum half Michael Patterson was able to nip in and score an opportunist try. However, Wilkinson failed to add the points, leaving the Dee still in front at 10-5.

Possibly inspired by Donaghadee’s restoration to their full fifteen, Schofield made a storming break towards the half way line only to concede a penalty as the supporting players could not get there in time. For the next short while there was some sound and fury but it was signifying nothing. Just as some spectators were wondering if the International on TV would be more exciting Richard Martindale yet again disrupted Carrick ball. Allen initiated a break for Martindale and Millar only for a Dee player to hold on to the ball a little too long, and the opportunity was lost. Frustratingly this became something of a pattern for a while. In the final quarter opportunities continued to be created by the Dee team through Allen, Harper, Blewitt, Martindale and Millar, but with over-complication breaking down momentum there was a lot of frustration for the Dee players as they saw good opportunities slip away.

Suddenly, right out of the blue, Carrick came into the game big-style. They again secured a good lineout and charge towards the Dee line concluding with their flanker Matt Hadden scoring an excellent try. Wilkinson added the points to give Carrick a 12 – 10 lead they deserved. This instantly changed Donaghadee’s frustration to determination. From the restart kick-off the Dee forwards, with Schofield very prominent, forced the Carrick forwards to infringe at the breakdown. A successful kick would have sent Donaghadee into the break 13-12 up, but Millar was unable to add the points, leaving Carrick just ahead.

After the interval, with the wind now to the advantage of Carrick, things looked ominous for the visitors. The next ten minutes was a series of Donaghadee attacks running into the wind, only for someone to drop the ball and give the Carrick defenders the relief of a huge kick downfield.  The Dee never gave up, although Harpur did choose a variation in attack plan. His high box kick into the sun caused total confusion in the Carrick cover and the awkward bouncing ball eluded the grasping hands of the Carrick players. Donaghadee winger Andrew Findlater kept his concentration and pounced on the capricious ball. In a blink he had gathered it, charged towards the Carrick posts and touched down to give Millar the easiest of chances to add the bonus points that restored the Dee lead to a score of 17 – 12.

With this sudden reverse in fortunes it was now Carrick who gave in to frustration. In quick succession Blewitt was tackled after his clearance kick and seconds later in a line-out Richard Martindale was uncompromisingly upended on to his back. The referee did call the players together for a stiff talk, but Donaghadee were a bit disappointed that no yellow cards appeared. Penalties to Donaghadee were allowing them to keep up the pressure, and Billy Allen continued to cause problems for the Carrick cover with his probing runs.

It proved to be the ever-alert Bobby Harper who broke this short stalemate after fifteen minutes. He made a good carry towards the Carrick posts; Martindale picked up, Kyle Morrow and Stuart Hutchison lent support and the added power of Davy Thompson took the ball over the line for a well worked try. Millar added the points to increase the Dee lead to 24 – 12.

The loyal Carrick supporters had been vociferous during the middle period, but this try stilled the noise somewhat. Signs of dogged determination showed that the Dee side were not going to let slip their lead at this stage. This widespread belief received a blow a few minutes later when the referee yellow-carded Donaghadee’s Schofield for lying on the ball.

This of course was a blow to Donaghadee, and with a prop off the field the obligatory uncontested scrums allowed Carrick to produce the quick ball they had been denied all day. For the Donaghadee supporters this proved to be a threat more anticipated than real because the Carrick backs could deliver no serious damage to a well-organised Donaghadee defence.   An accidental offside gave the Dee the opportunity from a scrum to clear their lines. When the Carrick forwards decided to mount an attack themselves the Donaghadee second row Kyle Morrow won an all important penalty kick when a Carrick player lay on the ball at the breakdown.

Sometimes fate interferes in contests. With five minutes left, Donaghadee’s centre Millar intercepted a Carrick pass on his ten metre line. The distance to the posts and the presence of cover lulled Carrick into lethargy. Millar’s clever footwork and balance completely out-foxed the Carrick defence in mid-field and he ran all the way to score a superb individual try beside the posts. This time it was Blewitt who added the points and the Dee now led by 31 – 12. This scoreline and the sight of Schofield re-entering the arena persuaded a number of Carrick supporters that it was time to watch the game on TV in the clubhouse and some Dee men to hit the road for Donaghadee and what were to be the frustrations of the Ireland/Scotland game.

In case some of the remaining spectators had not seen his first effort, Millar again picked up a loose ball almost exactly where he had done a minute or two earlier. Amazingly he then executed an almost-exact reprise of the earlier effort to score at the posts again. Blewitt, of course, had no alternative, and added the extra two points for what proved to be the final score of 38-12.  This was not the prettiest of games to watch, but credit most go to the fifteen Dee players who never gave up and deservedly won this match. With unbeaten league leaders Academy visiting Donaldson Park next Saturday the Dee side have hit form again just in time for what should be an enthralling fixture. The unbeaten Academy side have almost certainly secured promotion to Qualifying League Section 1 after CIYMS’s shock 17 -14 defeat by Lisburn on Saturday, and Donaghadee are not quite yet out of contention for for possible promotion.

The Donaghadee team at Carrick was: Billy Allen, Andrew Findlater, Richard Millar, Ian Martindale, Rory Garnham, Paul Blewitt, Bobby Harpur: Chris Schofield, Paul Hamilton, Gareth Gordon, Kyle Morrow, David Thompson, Stuart Hutchinson, Chris Hamilton and Richard Martindale.

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