Ards 1st XV 10
Enniskillen 1st XV fell at the last hurdle in their quest for promotion on Saturday with an excruciatingly tight 10-8 defeat to Ards. After securing this play off with a second place league finish, Skins traveled to face the former All Ireland side, who finished second from bottom this season in Qualifying One, with Skins fighting for promotion from Q2 and Ards for survival. Playing their 6th game in just 19 days it seemed in the end just a performance too far for Skins who looked certainly fatigued in the contest and failed to reach the heights of performances seen in recent weeks.
Skins looked sluggish from the start as the Ards outhalf broke the line with ease to bring play up to their 22, forcing some desperate defence to stop an early score. A ruck infringement by Skins then handed Ards a penalty opportunity; fortunately for the visitors this drifted wide of the posts and Ennskillen cleared their lines from the dropout. Soon afterwards a rare penalty against Skins at the scrum gifted Ards another opportunity to take the lead, again the kick fell short.
Skins settled into their phases better now off the restart, Ashley Finlay made some good ground counter attacking from fullback and carries from Jamie Johnston and Gareth Beatty gained yards. Enniskillen then looked back to form with a phenomenal maul that made it’s way from 25 metres out all the way to the try line where Ryan Cathcart crossed the line for the first try, putting Skins 5-0 up. It was a tight contest for some time now with neither team really making much headway until some good hands from the Enniskillen backs on the counter attack found Zach Charlton who made good ground down the wing. The Skins scrum looked back to form now with a huge shunt from the visitors through the Warrington, Cathcart and Beatty front row earning the penalty, McVitty kicking to touch to set up a line out inside the 22. Enniskillen really needed something from this period of pressure to take control of the game but the Ards defence was determined, holding up Johnston twice over the line and managing to stop two driving mauls just short of the line, surviving to go into the end of the first half trailing a mere 5 points.
The second half started disastrously as Ards kicked the restart and gained a penalty from the resultant ruck, setting up a line out and maul which had them inches from the Enniskillen line, a rare lapse in defence then allowing an Ards forward to touch the ball down right on the Skins try line. Immediately after the restart a probing kick from the Ards outhalf had Skins deep in their own half once again. Shifting the ball through the hands from the back of a scrum the Ards winger found space down the touch line and finished in the corner to put the home side 10-5 up.
It took a huge effort from Enniskillen to keep their tiring heads up after this disastrous 10 minutes, worsened by the sin binning of Ricky Lee for a breakdown infringement, and Ards almost crossed the line again but for some good tracking back by James Ferguson forcing a knock on and allowing Skins to clear their lines. The fresh legs of Steven Fox and Stevie Welsh on in the front row now gained another penalty from the scrum just inside the opposition half and this allowed Chris McVitty to narrow the gap to 10-8 with a kick for three points.
Another scrum penalty shortly after for Enniskillen had them deep in the Ards half and desperately seeking points. Working from a line out the Skins forwards carried relentlessly, working their way in front of the posts where Chris McVitty lined up for a drop goal attempt that unfortunately drifted wide. A deliberate knock on from Ards gave McVitty a dramatic penalty attempt in the last play of the game from 40 metres out just in front of the posts, which regrettably fell short and the contest ended in a 10-8 defeat for a clearly devastated Skins side.
It was a disappointing end for the 1st XV who have had such a remarkable season, and may have been a victim of their own success which leaded to such a hectic schedule of fixtures. On a positive note the 1st XV wait with bated breath this weekend as Bangor battle for promotion on Saturday, a win leaving a void in Qualifying One which will allow Skins automatic promotion, a challenge that this talented group of players will no doubt relish given the ability they’ve displayed this season.