Saturday 6th March. Kukri Qualifying League and Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup double header at the Palace Grounds. Sue Roper reports.
Early pressure from Enniskillen was exactly what Armagh needed to kick start their motivation for the rest of the game. An excellent run from Matthew ‘Eddie’ Irwin right from the start took Armagh up to the Enniskillen 22, but a kick forward from Matty Wright was touched down by Enniskillen to bring the ball back out to the 22.
The first scrum proved that there is a gulf between the top and bottom teams in the league and Armagh took the ball at the base of the scrum to push over. Tenacious scrum half Matty Wright came up with the score but out half Adam Gowing could not convert the further 2 points on the angle and the score was 5-0.
After the restart both teams gave away possession from simple knock on mistakes but it was Armagh who capitalised after the scrum with the ball being passed out to the centre and Johnny Allen who crossed the line. Again Gowing could not convert the points so the score remained at 10-0.
This saw Armagh rise into the ascendency from the kick off and dominated all aspects of play. Starting from the centre of the pitch some simple ball out to the wing and Irwin claimed it well and ran towards the line for his first of the match and Armagh’s third. This time Gowing slotted over the conversion to take the score to 17-0.
The curse of the forward pass then halted the Armagh progress, but the chance wasn’t to be grabbed by Enniskillen and Armagh quickly regained their composure to gain ground. Now on the front foot the home side showed their supporters some slick ball handling to take the ball back into the hands of Irwin who again ran down the line and scored the bonus point try. Gowing found his form to gain to full seven and take Armagh up to 24-0.
All the pressure seemed to be the shoulders of the Armagh players and they began to play real free flowing and enjoy the game. They continued to dominate in the line-out winning every ball that came captain James Morton’s way. The strength was maintained in the scrum and even won an Enniskillen scrum. From the base of this scrum Armagh made the pass again to Irwin who did what he does best and with a small chip and chase touched down the ball for the fifth and take the score to 29-0. Gowing then added the conversion to make it 31-0. But the first half was not over but any stretch of the imagination as Armagh showed their strength in numbers and again from the base of the scrum the ball was passed out to centre Johnny Allen who was able to run in his second of the game. Gowing was on a roll and made the score 38 without reply.
With only minutes to go after the restart the ball found it’s way to the hands of Leigh Manu who touched down the ball between posts for the seventh try of the match and with Gowing conversion the half ended with and spectacular 45-0 scoreline.
Enniskillen started the second half with the fight that all have come to see over the years but the home side were proving too strong and too good. Armagh made their first break of the second half through full back Johnny Steenson who made a skillful pass to winger Andrew Willis who continued the run up the line and finally inside to Manu who touched down with his second of the match. Again the angle proved to be too sharp for Gowing and the score remained at 50 without answer.
Armagh were definitely the superior force and as soon as the referee had blown the whistle and Willis was over the line before anyone could blink. Gowing this time was able to convert and take the score 57-0.
At this point the play seemed to stall with both sides making errors. However, it was Enniskillen who came out the best from this period making it to the Armagh 5m line. But an excellent steal from James Morton in the line-out then cleared by Matty Wright saw the play back in the hands of the Armagh players. It was a superb series of moves up the field that saw Joe Clarke finally claim the ball and the five points. Gowing again secured the entire 7 points to take the score to an impressive 64-0.
It seemed that Armagh outclassed Enniskillen in every way possible when Johnny Steenson again made another break towards the Enniskillen line. He went on virtually unchallenged and crossed the line. With the referee making the decision that the conversion from Gowing should be the last kick of the game the final whistle blew and the score ended 69-0 to the home side.
Armagh now play Coleraine on Tuesday night at the Palace Grounds for the return fixture. Coach and Captain Andy Hughes and James Morton now see that the end is near and the goal of promotion in their sights. But Hughes is in no way complacent. “Every match we face is only one step closer to our goal but we also know that nothing is certain in this game. We can only do our best and we intend to do that until the final whistle.”
Following Coleraine, Armagh face Ballymoney again at the Palace Grounds before travelling to Limavady on Saint Patrick’s Day for the last league match of the season.
You can view more pictures from this match at rugbypicture.co.uk. Click here.