REPORT, Enniskillen RFC I XV 40 v Grosvenor RFC I XV 17

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With this year’s season drawing quickly to a close Enniskillen coach Norman Richmond had, at the beginning of March, targeted the final five league fixtures as matches that had the potential to deliver maximum league points, and as a consequence help to secure a top four finish. Having defeated Randalstown quite comprehensively at Mullaghmeen the previous week, probably their best performance of the season, Enniskillen travelled to Grosvenor for this eagerly anticipated encounter, against a side now coached by former Skins coach, Alasdair McKee. The Grosvenor side, having also won the previous week, secured their place in the section for another season and were no longer constrained by the threat of relegation. Enniskillen, anxious to build their vastly improved performance of their last outing and, for the first time this season, fielded with the same fifteen that had started the previous week. The game was played in very windy conditions and with the visitors, having won the toss, opted to defend the kick-off from the home side.
Enniskillen displayed immediate intent, controlling possession from the kick-off, driving deep into the opposition half. In the opening minutes, after a series of controlled rucks, and before Grosvenor had actually managed to touch the ball, Enniskillen captain Jamie Johnston gathered possession and drove over the line for the opening score of the afternoon. Nick Finlay added the conversion in very difficult kicking conditions.
This setback spurred Grosvenor into action. Knowing they had to up their efforts if they had any chance of getting anything from the game they commenced again with a newly found impetus. They started to compete much more vigorously for possession, driving on several occasions deep into Enniskillen territory with a series of well-executed phases. The visitor’s defence was resolute in their determination to thwart any Grosvenor assaults on their line. Neither side managed to dominate the opening half, with first phase possession shared equally, and both sides managing to secure their own ball at the scrums and at the line-outs, with most of the play centred in the middle third of the pitch.

Richmond’s team talk at half time seemed to focus his players, with the immediate intensity of the approach to the second half obvious from the restart. Just as in the beginning of the first period, Enniskillen promptly drove into the Grosvenor twenty-two metre area. Then, in the third minute after the restart, Nick Finlay slipped an inside pass to Ashley Finlay, in support from the left wing, who caught the home side defence completely wrong footed to double the Skins advantage.
At this stage in the game the Enniskillen scrum was beginning to dominate the opposition eight, with Mark Hood, Cathcart and Stephen Fox establishing control in the front row.
Patrick McCleery competently performed at scrum half, his ball brisk distribution from both set piece and loose phases kept the back line moving forward at every opportunity.
Nathan Richmond was obviously relishing his afternoon, and alongside Alan Wilkinson in the centre the partnership was causing the home side defence all kinds of problems.
In the fiftieth minute the pair were instrumental in creating the space in mid-field that allowed Wilkinson the opportunity to sprint clear of the Grosvenor cover and to run over thirty metres to record a further Enniskillen score.
The visitors continued to control possession, stretching the home side’s defence on several occasions. This pressure again paid off when in the fifty-fourth minute some slick passes form the Enniskillen back line created an overlap and released Ashley Finlay on the wing to run in unopposed to register the fourth the try of the game, stretching their lead to twenty-six points.
Any thoughts the visitors may have had at this stage regarding the outcome of the game were very quickly allayed as Grosvenor were in no mood to submit that easily. Knowing they had to up their efforts if they had any chance of securing anything from the game, Grosvenor started to run at the visitor’s defence with a new found purpose. From the restart they controlled possession, driving deep into the Enniskillen half with a series of well-executed rucks and mauls. In the sixty-second minute their efforts paid off, as Grosvenor outflanked the visitor’s defence to score a well worked try, their opening score of the game.
Two more Grosvenor tries quickly followed, and suddenly in a game where Enniskillen seemed to be in total control, the outcome of the game was again very much in the balance, with the margin between the sides reduced to nine points. Fortunately for the visitors the Grosvenor kicker had managed to convert only one of his conversion attempts.
Enniskillen, focused again on the task in hand, found another gear and managed to control possession for the remainder of the second half, playing a tight driving game at every opportunity. They enjoyed a period of dominance for the remaining ten minutes, building phases and protecting possession, consequently denying Grosvenor any further chances to attack. The Enniskillen back row of Johnston, Harte and Cadden excelled in the loose, and were effectively supported by the efforts of the second row partnership of David Buchanan and Kane Holden throughout. Stephen Welsh and Ricky Lee played their part when called upon, again proving the importance of an extended squad.
Enniskillen’s level of intensity at the breakdown reflected their commitment and desire to control proceedings and to press on for a victory. With eight minutes remaining and with Grosvenor furiously attacking the visitor’s line, Enniskillen’s David Buchannon turned over possession at a ruck. The ball was immediately fed to Ashley Finlay on the flank who once more out paced the home side’s cover and sprinted the length of the park with the Grosvenor defence in hot pursuit, and crossed the line to score his third try of the contest to the huge relief of the travelling support.
As was the case the previous week, the Enniskillen back three of Donagh O’Callaghan, Chris McVitty and Ashley Finlay were magnificent for the entire eighty minutes. They operated extremely efficiently as a unit, shutting down any space Grosvenor tried to create, and always in support when Enniskillen attacked.
The persistence of the Enniskillen pack again paid off when, in the final minute, Kane Holden ripped the ball from a maul just inside his own half. He caught the home side cover lacking adequate numbers to defend their line and managed to run over forty metres to finally put the outcome beyond any doubt, touching down under the posts for Enniskillen’s sixth try of the game.
Enniskillen again demonstrated what they are capable of when they play focused rugby.
This game proved that at this level total concentration for the full eighty minutes is required if they are to compete for honours. The effort and commitment of the entire squad this year has established a firm foundation for moving ahead with confidence next year. The focus of attention now moves to the season’s last remaining league fixture, with a visit to University of Ulster in Coleraine, where a victory would almost certainly secure a top four finish, nothing less than Enniskillen deserves after their best season for many years.

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