REPORT Carrickfergus RFC 40 v Grosvenor RFC 28

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Carrick 1st XV got their Qualifying League campaign off to a winning start with a 40 points to 28 away victory over Grosvenor on Saturday 19th September. This was a somewhat mixed performance by the Maxol-Sponsored Carrick side, with a couple of good team tries, a couple of fine individual efforts but questions were raised over their defensive performance where there was a tendency to stand off, or fall off, tackles at times. That said, it was a satisfying win bearing mind that they lost last year’s equivalent fixture, totally against the run of play, a result which left them playing catch-up throughout the title chase later in the season. Also, they were up against a much-improved Grosvenor side from that which was totally outclassed when they faced Carrick at Tom Simms Memorial Park back in March. The Carrick scrum was solid for much of the match but did creak on occasions, the line-out functioned well and, with Captain Ross Marsden on fine form, they got the better of the break-down. There was another excellent performance from No 8 Andy McKeen capped by two tries, while centres Ryan Bailey and Reece Hamilton, who also got a brace apiece, were threatening in attack as was left winger Brian Alexander. Neil Marsden and Andy Kinkaid played their part both as carriers and in grafting at the break-down. Sam Hamilton was totally reliable under the high ball at full-back and out-half Luke Whitall was in good form with the boot, converting five of Carrick’s six tries, some from difficult angles.

After a scrappy opening ten minutes, Carrick took the lead when Ryan Bailey finished off a move which started when Sam Wallace ran back a Grosvenor kick and fed Ross Crymble who made the ball available for re-cycling; Bailey made twenty metres up the touch-line before passing in-field to Reece Hamilton and then took the return pass to go over in the corner. This was the only Carrick try which was not converted. Although the visitors were now getting the better of territory and possession, it was Grosvenor who scored next in the twentieth minute when, in shades of last year, a kick into the Carrick 22 was not dealt with by the defenders and a kind bounce allowed the home side to gather and score. The try was converted to give them the lead.

The game continued to be rather scrappy and structureless into the second quarter but, with six minutes remaining until half-time, Carrick regained the lead when, after a crunching tackle from Ross Marsden had dislodged the ball, Conor Cambridge picked up and made twenty metres before being tackled; the ball was then moved left and, with Grosvenor running out of defenders, Reece Hamilton went over. Luke Whitall added the conversion points. Then, on the stroke of half-time, Andy McKeen scored a fine individual try, running back a poor Grosvenor clearance kick and beating three or four defenders before forcing his way over. Luke Whitall again converted to give the visitors a 19 points to 7 half-time lead.

In the first ten minutes of the second half, ghosts of last year once again began to hover, as the home side kicked two penalties to narrow the gap between the sides to 6 points. However, the home side knocked on in trying to gather the kick-off following the second of the penalties and following the scrum Carrick went through the phases before Andy McKeen spotted a gap in the defence and raced over from fifteen metres out. Luke Whitall again added the conversion points to calm Carrick nerves. Two minutes later the visitors extended their lead when, following a scrum on the Grosvenor 10 metre line, Brian Alexander made twenty metres up the left hand touch-line and passed inside to Reece Hamilton who raced over. Luke Whitall converted to take Carrick’s lead to 33 points to 13. The home side, however , had not given up and reduced the gap to 13 points when one of their props went through a gaping hole in the visitors’ defence to run in from twenty metres out. The try was converted and Grosvenor added their third penalty two minutes later to narrow the gap to 10 points. Carrick though were by and large controlling territory and possession at this stage and, with ten minutes remaining took their score to the 40 point mark when Ryan Bailey finished off a move which started when Brian Alexander ran back a kick and fed Reece Hamilton who made ground and then gave the scoring pass to his centre partner. Luke Whitall converted but, to their credit, Grosvenor were not finished and their left winger scored a fine individual try as they ran the ball out of their own half although he was helped by some slack Carrick defending. The try was not converted and Carrick comfortably held onto their 40 points to 28 lead until the final whistle.

Not a totally convincing performance by Carrick but the League campaign is off to a winning start and it is their third high scoring win in a row following the two comprehensive victories in the Conference League. Next week they face local rivals Larne in the first round of the Junior Cup at Tom Simms Memorial Park and will be hoping for a result similar to that when the sides met at the same venue just after Christmas!

The Carrick team against Grosvenor was:-
S. Wallace; R. Crymble, R. Bailey, R. Hamilton, B. Alexander; L. Whitall, C. Cambridge; A. Gibney, N. Hanna, R. Williams (J. McIlwaine), A. Kinkaid, C. Rodgers (M. Gordon), N. Marsden, R.Marsden (Capt), A. McKeen.

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