All Ireland league – Old Wesley 21 Banbridge 20
Old Wesley got the better of Banbridge by the narrowest margin of 21-20 with the match in the balance up to the final kick of the match.
On a bracing but dry November afternoon, Old Wesley and Banbridge served up an excellent display of attractive running rugby, with both sides always looking to explore the possibilities out wide, which was pleasing for the sizeable attendance, many of whom were en route to the Aviva for the Argentinian match. Whilst the excellent Banbridge side showed why they were currently 3rd in the table, Old Wesley clearly showed why they should be higher than 7th position (now 6th).
Banbridge were first out of the traps and, after an excellent bout of passing, winger Conor Field crossed in the corner, with experienced scrum half, Ian Porter adding the points. After a slow start, Wesley finally got a foothold in the opposition half and an excellent scrum yielded a penalty which in-form placekicker, Jack Maybury, duly slotted with an excellent kick (7-3 to Banbridge).
The Banbridge backline, afforded space, looked dangerous every time in attack and, on 22 minutes, this pressure led to a penalty by Porter, bringing the scoreline to 10-3 in favour of the visitors. On 25 minutes, Maybury slotted another good penalty to narrow the margin to 10-6. One of the biggest cheers of the day followed the recovery of referee, Shane Kierans, who was accidentally bowled over by a marauding Banbridge forward, and was, thankfully, none the worse for his experience !
With Banbridge no.8, Caleb Montgomery creating havoc with his rampaging runs, it took good defensive play by Wesley winger, Tommy O’Callaghan and excellent line out play by Matthew Bursey to keep the scoreline intact. With the Wesley scrum appearing very solid, it was ironical that, on 30 minutes, the second Banbridge try was as a direct result of a scrum turnover and slick passing by the Banbridge backs saw centre, Andrew Morrison, scorching over the line, with Porter surprisingly missing the easy conversion ( Banbridge 15-6). To their credit, Wesley stormed back before half time and a good chip by James O’Donovan put the pressure on the Banbridge line and after Tim Clifford was held up just short, burly prop, Nenagh native Cronan Gleeson stormed over for a superb try, with the ever reliable Maybury adding the points. Half time Banbridge led 15-13.
Old Wesley started the second half brightly and a barnstorming 40 metre run by highly promising second row, JJ O’Dea, followed by a neat chip by Clifford brought play to the Banbridge line and, despite a great passage of play, a slight lack of composure saw the chance go a-begging.
Wesley centre, David Poff, made a great straight break but again the excellent Banbridge defence forced a turnover penalty. The intense Wesley pressure finally bore fruit on 47 minutes, when O’Dea and Bursey displayed fantastic athleticism before transferring to captain, Darren Horan, who passed on for Maybury to draw his man to send O’Donovan over in the corner for a memorable try. Wesley now led for the first time 18-15. Wesley had a great chance to pull further ahead but a 3 on 1 opportunity was spurned after another great break by Clifford . Banbridge scrum half, Porter, then cleared his lines from inside his 22 with a monumental kick to well inside the Wesley half.
Another great move by Wesley off the back of a scrum inside their own 22 was led by the lively Bursey but excellent Banbridge defence snuffed out the danger. The Ulster side then had a period of ascendancy but missed and eschewed penalty opportunities hurt them deeply, with a brilliant line out steal by Bursey thwarting one of their attempts on the Wesley line. Wesley finally lifted the siege with another great break by O’Dea, who fed to Maybury and took the return pass to make a storming run all the way to the Banbridge line, only for a despairing and excellent defensive tackle knocked the ball out of his hands. Wesley kept Banbridge pinned in their 22 with scrum half, Aaron Atkinson, delivering a very snappy service, and this pressure finally delivered a penalty on 72 minutes, which Maybury duly slotted to extend the lead to 21-15.
Banbridge were not finished, however, and, to their eternal credit, they threw the kitchen sink at the Wesley line and in the last play of the game, influential no.8, Montgomery, stormed over for a try out wide to narrow the margin to 21-20, with the result of the match hinging on the difficult conversion attempt by Porter. With tension mounting all around the ground, Porter’s well struck kick just shaved the right hand post to leave the homesters jubilant and the visitors devastated.
This was a fittingly dramatic end to a magnificent match and the rematch in Banbridge on 27th January will be keenly awaited by all who were lucky to witness this first offering.
OLD WESLEY TEAM – Rory Stynes, Jack Maybury, James O’Donovan, David Poff, Thomas O’Callaghan, Tim Clifford, Aaron Atkinson, Cronan Gleeson, Conor Maguire, James Burton, JJ O’Dea, Kieran Murphy, Darren Horan (c), Stephen Boyle, Matthew Bursey. Replacements – Craig Telford, Martin Gately, Conor Barry, Paul Harte, Eoghan O’Reilly
SCORES – Cronan Gleeson, try; James O’Donovan, try; Jack Maybury, con, 3 pens.