REPORT & SHOTS Portora RS v Banbridge Academy

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PORTORA R.S. MEDALLION vs Banbridge Academy
Jan 23rd, 2016

When two teams with almost identical records for their Medallion season meet it’s hardly surprising that a tight match is likely to ensue and that’s exactly what happened when Portora hosted Banbridge Academy in the 3rd Round of the Medallion Shield. It was a case of the unstoppable force and the immovable object.

For those watching the first 15 minutes the final score of 3points all must have seemed a highly unlikely result. Portora drove the visitors off the very first ruck and didn’t relinquish possession for the next 6 minutes when they banked their advantage with a well taken penalty kick by Craig Johnston. The home team may well look back at the next 10 minutes of the match and wonder why they didn’t put the game to bed during this period. Earlier in the season Portora had beaten Banbridge using forward drives combined with accurate corner kicking from out half, Mark Crawford, and no doubt they calculated a similar strategy would allow them to prevail once again.

The forwards continued to dominate the opposition pack and gave their backs ample ball which they duly kicked deep into the Banbridge half making good use of the following wind. Unfortunately the strategy was much less successful this time. Crawford had just completed a three week concussion suspension on the previous day and, unsurprisingly, was not on top form, eventually having to retire with a hamstring worry. In addition Banbridge had considerably strengthened their defence on the wings.  Had Portora been a little more experienced they would have noticed that just as the visiting forwards were slow to start in the rucks and mauls so their backs were slow to organise themselves in defence and many opportunities for overlaps out wide were missed. The first half finished a mere 3-0 to Portora despite them having maintained the majority of the possession throughout.

During the second half the visitor’s pack reduced Portora’s dominance in rucks and mauls although they failed to make any headway in the line outs where Jack Kennedy, Chris Balfour and Ally Jones dominated. Portora could still claim the greater percentage of possession and they switched to more handling moves in the backs. Both defences were very strong during this period with Portora quickly smothering any Banbridge back line attacks while the back row of William Dowson, John Allan and the indefatigable Sam Frasier prevented Banbridge’s top scorer, number 8, Robbie Mathers, from making more than a few metres at a time. Mathers did, however, manage to put in a few bone crunching tackles. The visitor’s defence was equally successful, holding prop Andrew Dane up a few feet from the try line and shepherding what seemed like a certain score by the exciting Alex Parke into touch. They finally received some reward for their considerable efforts when their out half, Jack Carson, slotted over a easy penalty to level the scores at 3 – 3.

There is little doubt that Portora were the more dangerous of the two sides and they had more opportunities to clinch the game but Banbridge will be happier with the result as Portora now have to travel to County Down on Tuesday for the replay. Of concern to Portora will be the  injuries to Mark Crawford, Harry Dane, Chris Balfour and Curtis Coalter, the results of a tough, attritional game of rugby. More encouraging were the performances of substitutes Craig Humes, Niel Graham and Robbie Mills and Portora must fancy their chances of completing the task next week, even if it is away at Banbridge.

Pic Credit Roy Crawford.

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