Kukri Qualifying 2: UUC 22 Donaghadee 30

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Donaghadee began the game with the breeze diagonally behind them, and with this notional advantage they got first dibs at a penalty goal attempt. But Richard Millar’s aim was just wide. The Coleraine students came back at Donaghadee from the restart, and when the ball went to ground on halfway a desperation fly-hack flew towards the Donaghadee line. As the Dee defenders rallied back to clear the danger of the skittering ball, they and some UUC chasers got hopelessly tangled among each other. The results were that Donaghadee’s full-back got trampled half to death by no one knows who and had to leave the field bloodied and bruised.

While Dee physio Niall Morraghan was working hard to restore mobility into Allen’s legs the students took advantage of their numerical superiority with a well-worked attack that sprang their fast left winger free. His pace on the outside took him dangerously close to the Dee line, but he was forced into touch at the corner flag and Donaghadee cleared the danger. So well did they counter-attack that it was very quickly Donaghadee who were threatening their opponents’ line. As UUC claimed the possession in heavy traffic it was somehow the ubiquitous Chris Hamilton who suddenly burst free and made the goal line giving Millar a simple chance to add the two extra points to open the scoring 7-0 to Donaghadee. With Allen still hors de combat this was great encouragement for the visitors.

During the first 15-20 minutes the strength of the Donaghadee pack was marked, so it was something of a surprise, not to mention a great credit to the UUC forwards when they cleverly co-ordinated their maul well enough to embarrass the Dee men by driving them over their line for an impressive score. Unfortunately for them the relatively easy kick went just wide and Donaghadee still had the numerical advantage of 7-5.

Donaghadee were now back to full strength and from a lineout after Chris Schofield had found a great touch at the UUC “22” their forwards all found their game plan at the same moment and drove the students backwards at a great rate of knots to their “5”, as if to show them that rugby is a man’s game. When the ball found Rory Garnham on the left wing with no room either he or a careless UUC hand found Millar with about ten metres to go. Somehow, although the centre was well tackled five metres out he somehow managed to reach the entire distance to set the ball at full stretch on the goal line for a great score. The missed conversion thus left the score at Donaghadee 12 – UUC 5.

Before any possibility of dismay could affect the UUC players they were fortunate in two ways; somehow they received the ball when Donaghadee had it and the receiving forward was able to take off upfield, and then he had the wisdom, not always observed with forwards, to recognise that his winger had more pace than he, and gave him his head to go all the way for a try under Donaghadee’s posts and an easy conversion that tied the score at 12-12. Clearly this gave the home side a great lift because moments later, from a line-out on their right UUC spread the ball wisely and well to their left winger who managed to outdistance the Dee cover to get over in the corner. A magnificent conversion turned the game around totally with the score now 19-12 to UUC.

Thanks to a large degree to outside-half Ian Martindale’s crash tackling all further efforts from UUC in this purple period were well dealt with, and all thirty players were grateful for the referee’s whistle that gave them a few minutes to regain their breath and strength. It seemed likely that the player/coach’s team talk, along with that of touchline coach Jimmy McCoy, would have centred round an obvious difference between the Dee players’ individual superlative efforts and a most unusual lack of cohesion in their team play. It was clear to the spectators that during the first forty minutes, although they were unable to get as much possession as their opponents got, on the day they were better able to co-ordinate their attacks to put Donaghadee under pressure.

After a shaky start to the second half where they so nearly gave away a penalty goal and a second intercept try, Donaghadee got back in the game, not with a re-discovery of the excellent team play that has taken them so far this season, but with a fairly aimless bout of unthreatening interpassing – until the ball found Bobby Harpur, that is. Somehow, maybe born from frustration that the game seemed to be slipping away, the Kiwi twisted, turned, stopped and started until he found the hole he was looking for and went in for a try to lift the hearts of all Dee players and supporters with the score now a not-too-threatening 22-19.

It was not long after this that the referee finally lost patience with UUC’s over-enthusiasm at killing the ball and sent the latest culprit for a ten-minute rest. Donaghadee immediately took advantage of this with an impressive power run from Martindale that eventually provoked a UUC offence fifteen metres out. Lack of discipline quickly obliged the referee to move the penalty up ten metres to an unmissable five and Millar duly took the opportunity to level the scores at 22 each.

Adrenaline now pumping Donaghadee showed the enthusiastic crowd why they have had such a successful season. Allen hoisted a high one into the UUC defence. When this was cleverly put straight back into the gap left by the chasing Allen there was Rory Garnham covering back to receive the ball. He needs no shout of encouragement, although he certainly got one as he tore up his wing at the UUC cover. When Donaghadee then got a line-out in their opponents’ half it was their returning wakeboarder scrum-half Paul Johnston who made the crucial break. Millar’s kick looked close, but the referee judged that it just missed narrowly, but the travelling supporters were fairly content that with only a few minutes left it was now 27-22 to Donaghadee.

It was now very noticeable that Donaghadee were in full warrior mode – total concentration and determination visible on every face as they blocked every UUC attempt to get back in the game. After another charge by Martindale it was clear that every one of his team-mates were dedicated to score again if allowed, but that there was no way their opponents would. When their efforts were finally halted close to the UUC goal-line it was because the referee had judged that their three-quarters were offside – in front of the posts. Naturally Millar needed no encouragement to kick the goal as the referee blew for no-side.

This game was well won out of a lesser performance of Donaghadee’s, but let their be no doubt that no team, however good, in any ball game gets it right every week, but it is the great teams that can dig out a win even when the magic is a wee bit lacking. Undoubtedly the university students will have been very disappointed. Not only is this the second time in the season that they have lost narrowly to Donaghadee, but they must have known that they were playing well enough for the win to be within their grasp. University teams self-evidently cannot have the continuity club sides often have, but if a goodly number of these lads are still at UUC next season, they will be a fine side.

The Donaghadee team against UUC was: Billy Allen, Chris Woods, Bobby Harpur, Richard Millar, Rory Garnham, Ian Martindale, Paul Johnston: Chris Schofield, Gareth Gordon, Chris Woods, Kyle Morrow, Stuart Hutchinson, Craig McCoy, Chris Hamilton and Martin Coulter.

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