All Ireland League: Queens University 18 – Old Wesley 10
Following a game in which they had the better of possession and territory, Old Wesley were frustrated to leave Dub Lane empty handed following defeat by 18-10 to High Flying Queens University. Heavy overnight and morning rain in Belfast took its toll on the main playing surface overlooked by a comfortable pavilion and adjoining covered stand, and the game was transferred to an alternative pitch (appropriately known as ‘Beirut’ by the Queens faithful) on the periphery of the University’s sporting campus. Despite the exposed location and the generally inclement weather conditions both sides contributed to an entertaining game. The result leaves Old Wesley in 8th place in Division 2A on 22 points, eleven behind their victors in 2nd place and fifteen points adrift of leaders Galwegians.
Queens University played with the aid of a strong cold wind and long periods of driving rain in the opening half, but found this advantage negated by the Old Wesley pack who had by far the better of the opening exchanges. Showing early dominance in the set scrums and out of touch, the visitors deservedly took an early lead through a well-judged penalty goal into the wind by Barry McLaughlin. This lead was short lived when Old Wesley failed to deal adequately with the restart and then infringed at the breakdown to concede an equalising penalty goal. As the half progressed the Old Wesley forwards continued to control the loose ball, adopting a pick and drive tactic, and with their back row of Stephen Boyle, Thomas Ratihi and Richie Morrow particularly prominent. The tactic had limited success as, with the driving player going to ground early on many occasions, the students opted not to seriously contest the breakdown but to set up blanket defence around the fringes, which the Old Wesley players had limited success in breaking down.
On the 30 minute mark, and against the run of play, Queens took the lead with a 50 metre penalty goal. The Old Wesley response was to up their already impressive work rate in a ferocious onslaught on the students try line in a multi-phase attack but without reward due to the concession of a penalty a metre out. As the interval whistle blew the sun appeared and the wind dropped and the visiting support was left to rue the fact that such a huge effort by their players had yielded such scant reward.
In the second period this polished and street wise Queens outfit demonstrated an excellent ability to counter attack whenever the opportunity arose, and to use the box kick to great effect. With lightning speed in the backline they conjured up an early breakaway try albeit benefitting from some poor Old Wesley defence. The unconverted try stretched the lead to 18-3. With the easing of the weather conditions Old Wesley began to adopt a more expansive game plan and they were unfortunate when a great break by full back Eoin Stynes yielded nothing due to the lack of a supporting player under the Queens posts. Shortly afterwards an excellent line out steal 5 metres from the Queens line by Paul McCarroll started another attack on the home try line but an unfortunate knock on relieved the pressure. After 65 minutes the result was put beyond doubt when a wayward defensive clearance led to a smart counter attack and a try under the Old Wesley posts.
Trailing 18-3 Old Wesley dug deep in an effort to salvage some reward for their efforts. A couple of quick tap penalties by Barry McLaughlin set up good attacking positions and eventually Old Wesley were rewarded with a well worked try by Wes Deverell converted by McLaughlin. With 5 minutes remaining McLaughlin had the opportunity to get the visitors within losing bonus point territory but his 45 metre penalty goal effort rebounded into play off the cross bar. Old Wesley continued to pressure the Queens line but the home defence held firm to the final whistle and an 18-10 victory.
While the result was disappointing, the effort and commitment shown by the Old Wesley players was commendable. On another day and in different conditions the final result could have been quite different. Next up – Rainey Old Boys in Donnybrook on 1st February.
Old Wesley: Eoin Stynes, Barry McLaughlin, Steven Harvey, David Potterton, Wez Deverell, Kieran Hurrell, Ian Cassidy, Kenny Knaggs, Craig Telford, Dave Henshaw, Iain McGann, Paul McCarroll, Stephen Boyle, Thomas Ratahi, Richie Morrow. Replacements: Darren Horan, James Burton, John Carroll, Colin Sheridan, Ivan Campbell.
Old Wesley Scorers: Wes Deverall (try), Barry McLaughlin (con, pen).