All Ireland League – Old Wesley 40 City of Armagh 13
Old Wesley produced their best performance of the season to date in securing an emphatic bonus point victory away to a brave City of Armagh side, on a scoreline of 40-13. The match was played in the wonderfully appointed surroundings of the Palace Grounds, which are, arguably, the most scenic grounds on the AIL circuit. This victory sees Wesley remain in second place behind the only other unbeaten side, Highfield, and the meeting of the two sides in Energia Park, Donnybrook on 7th December is keenly awaited by all. Before this, however, Wesley will be fully focused on a difficult away trip to Shannon on 30th November.
Wesley opened brightly and secured an early foothold in the Armagh half and, from a line out 10 metres out, Ben Burns crossed for a try on a day that was to prove historic for the hooker. Wesley’s scrum dominance enabled them to secure plenty of primary possession, with Cronan Gleeson, playing his last game before he embarks on his USA adventure, being particularly prominent.
After 20 minutes, Wesley had a wonderful sweeping passage of play, going through over 20 phases of controlled rugby, and were deprived of a contender for try of the season, when Charlie O’Regan had the ball dislodged as he dived for the line, after a pass from JJ O’Dea. Wesley lost a couple of line outs from promising positions and the lively Armagh side capitalised to come back strongly into the game, but the excellent Wesley defence snuffed out any threats. On 35 minutes, Wesley finally got the second try, which their dominance deserved, when, after great initial play by evergreen flanker, Stephen Boyle, strong running by Conor Barry and James O’Donovan created the opportunity for Tom Kiersey to cross after a typical sniping run. Rory Stynes added the points to stretch the lead to 12-0. Armagh struck back and, after strong pressure on the Wesley line, the visitors conceded a penalty for a high tackle which was duly converted to leave the half time score 12-3 to Wesley.
Armagh narrowed the margin to 12-6 immediately after half time with a further penalty and they continued to have the better of affairs for the next 10 minutes, without really troubling the Wesley line. The toll of trying to live with the excellently drilled Wesley pack finally began to show, with influential no.8, Paul Derham, controlling matters. After 55 minutes, Wesley went to the corner from a penalty and a superbly controlled rolling maul from the entire pack saw Burns ground for his second try of the match, with Stynes extending the lead further to 19-6 with an excellent conversion from the touchline. City of Armagh, to their credit, never stopped trying and played their part in what was a very entertaining and full – blooded affair, played in excellent dry and crisp conditions. However, on 65 minutes, the Wesley power led to another great try from a rolling maul, with that man again, Ben Burns, securing a first-ever All Ireland League hat-trick of tries for a Wesley hooker. — Wesley lead 26-6.
Wesley were now rampant and they put a tiring Armagh side to the sword with a try on 73 minutes by Kiersey (his second), after great runs by Tommy O’Callaghan and David Poff. Replacement, Josh Miller nailed the conversion from the touchline – Wesley lead 33-6. Wesley got their final try soon after, following a great breakaway, with replacement, Richie Walsh, getting the touchdown; Miller again added the points. There was still sufficient time for Armagh to grab the final converted try just before “no side” to leave the final scoreline – Old Wesley 40 City of Armagh 13.
One interesting footnote re Ben Burns – On a day when he scored a historic hat trick, his two namesakes, Billy (Ulster) and Freddie (Bath) played against one another in a sibling Heineken Cup clash. The coincidences continue with the Burns siblings, when Ben and his brother, Sam (Highfield full back) are likely to meet on the 7th December in an encounter which their father, Graham, is no doubt looking forward to !
Old Wesley Scorers – Ben Burns 3 tries; Tom Kiersey 2 tries; Richie Walsh 1 try; Rory Stynes 4 cons; Josh Miller 2 cons
Team: Rory Stynes, Thomas O’Callaghan, David Poff, James O’Donovan, Ed O’Keeffe, Tom Kiersey, Charlie O’Regan, Conor Maguire, Ben Burns, Cronan Gleeson, Iain McGann (c),JJ O’Dea, Conor Barry, Stephen Boyle, Paul Derham. Replacements: Craig Telford, Harry Noonan, Ian Condell, Richie Walsh and Josh Miller.