Instonians end Bangor’s winning streak
By Roger Corbett
Bangor narrowly lost their unbeaten record by 21-22 in a close and evenly matched game against Instonians at Upritchard Park.
From Bangor’s kick off into a slight breeze, the importance of this top-of-the-table clash was evident by the number of early mistakes by both sides. However, it didn’t take long for Bangor’s dangerous back line to create an opening which allowed Mark Widdowson a run down the left hand touchline. However, the quick covering and effective tackling of his opposite number prevented the score. Minutes later it was Inst on the attack, winning a penalty in front of Bangor’s posts after the referee judged Bangor’s front row to have collapsed the scrum, despite moving it forward at the time. The simple kick was converted and Inst were ahead by 0-3.
From this point on, and for most of the remainder of the first quarter, Inst kept play firmly in Bangor’s half. Further scrum infringements by Bangor conceded a number of penalties, which Inst elected to take as re-set scrums. Eventually, after several pick and drives, Inst got over the line for a converted try and extended their lead to 0-10 after 18 minutes of play.
Apparently unfazed by this period of pressure, Bangor responded in the best possible fashion, when a burst of speed by Jason Guthrie saw him break through the Inst line. Having drawn a number of Inst tacklers, he managed to pass to Curtis Stewart on his left hand side. From 10 metres out, and now travelling at speed, Stewart was unstoppable and powered over to score to the left of the posts. Mark Widdowson added the conversion, and Bangor were now back in the hunt at 7-10.
MATCH PICTURES CLICK HERE
As the game progressed, it was becoming obvious that the visitors’ strength lay in their forwards whereas Bangor’s back line looked by far the more dangerous. As the game entered the final minutes of the first half, Bangor were on the front foot and building an attack through half backs Jason Guthrie and Jason Morgan, and centres Desi Fusco and Rob Gamble. As the move got into the Inst twenty two, one of the attacking Bangor players was tackled early, resulting in the ball going to ground. Seeing that the referee hadn’t stopped play for what looked like an obvious penalty, Inst scooped up the ball and ran through the resulting gap in Bangor’s line. The Bangor players did their best to respond and track back into defence, but after a couple of quick phases of play, Inst took advantage of Bangor’s disruption and scored their second converted try, making the score now 7-17. To add insult to injury, in the final minute of the half, Bangor’s Phil Whyte received a yellow card for another dubious front row offence in the scrum. As the half time whistle came, there was much to talk about, both on the touchline as well as the players’ huddle.
Although starting the second half with only 14 men, Bangor had the benefit of a strengthening wind. This, and a desire to correct the upset of the first half, saw the home side go up a gear and within 5 minutes had forced a penalty which was kicked to touch. A good lineout and driving maul moved play closer to the Inst line, but determined defending halted its progress. However, having recycled the ball, Morgan and Fusco moved it across from right to left, eventually finding David Bradford who, despite being tackled by three Inst players, managed to make the final move and score. Widdowson added the conversion, and Bangor were now fighting back at 14-17.
From the restart, Jamie Clegg took the ball well and started to run the ball back at Inst. The attack was then taken on by centres Fusco and Gamble, before releasing Widdowson again. His darting move from the left wing then found Bradford who took play into the Inst half. Although brought down, the ball was gathered by Stewart who made it into the twenty two before passing to Guthrie. The final pass was to Clegg who took the ball with 7 metres to go, and crashed over to complete the move he started just moments before. This, and the added conversion, now put Bangor ahead for the first time in the game by 21-17, having added 14 points while still with a player in the sin bin.
Inst steadied the ship with some effective positional kicking, and played to their strengths in the scrum and lineout. After 17 minutes, Inst were awarded a scrum close to Bangor’s twenty two. An excellent drive by the Bangor forwards pushed the Inst scrum back, but the ball had already been quickly heeled and then picked up at Number 8. The subsequent quick movement from the back of the scrum appeared to catch the Bangor defence off guard and a couple of passes later, Inst nipped over in the left hand corner to score their third try and, although the conversion was missed, they now had their noses ahead by 21-22.
With a quarter of the game remaining, the game was now on a knife-edge. Bangor continued to push forward and won several penalties for their efforts. However, these opportunities to kick for touch and start another attacking platform from within Inst territory were squandered with some wayward efforts which were then cleared by the Inst defence. Although Bangor tried to reproduce their heroic efforts at the start of the half, Inst’s resolute defence kept them at bay until the final whistle confirmed their first defeat of the season.
The close finish earned Bangor a valuable losing bonus point which keeps them 2 points clear at the top of the table. It’s now cup action for the next couple of weeks, starting with Bangor’s entry into the second round of the Junior Cup with a difficult away fixture against Ballymena 2nds, followed by the opening round of the All Ireland Junior Cup at home to Clondalkin. Hopefully, this close defeat will spur the players and coaching staff to make all necessary corrections to their game, and return to winning ways.
Bangor team: O McIlmurry, P Whyte, J Leary, M Ferguson, D Kelly, J Clegg (c), D Bradford, C Stewart, J Guthrie, J Morgan, M Widdowson, D Fusco, R Gamble, R McCloskey, M Weir
Subs: P Dornan, C Burton
Bangor scorers: C Stewart (1T), D Bradford (1T), J Clegg (1T), M Widdowson (3C)