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Banbridge avoid going down after Navan win

Banbridge 24 Navan 0: In 21 seasons playing All-Ireland Rugby, Banbridge have never been relegated.

By Darryl Armitage
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 1:38 pm

And that proud record was maintained at the end of what had been a challenging season, with last Saturday’s lock-out of visitors Navan ensuring another year in Division 1B.

“A massive relief in pressure for everyone” was how Banbridge coach Mark McDowell described the outcome of his side’s relegation play-offs against Navan.

The groundwork had been laid the previous Saturday, when the Rifle Park men came away from the first leg of the relegation play-off in Navan eight points to the good.

And on a day when the rain fell continuously, Bann played controlled, watertight rugby to deny the visitors any chance of an unlikely comeback.

Knowing they needed an early score to give themselves a fighting chance of recovery, Navan laid siege to the home line in the opening 10 minutes of the game.

And in that period of intense pressure they came to realise just how much Division 1 status meant to the home side as every attacking move was met with aggressive, unyielding defence.

Having seen off the early threat, Bann moved to occupy Navan territory, probing at the visitors’ lines through the strong ball-carrying of forwards Peter Cromie, David McCann and Matthew Laird.

The first real scoring opportunity was created by Joe Finnegan’s scything run through the Navan lines off a midfield scrum.

The centre’s pace took him clear with only the full-back to beat, but the Navan defender won the race to the chip kick over his head.

Still, Bann were now on the front foot, winning a penalty 35 metres out which Adam Doherty lined up on the tee with 25 minutes played. The wind held it up short of the posts and as the Navan defence hesitated, Finnegan raced up to secure the ball.

Two quick recycles later number right Robin Sinton was diving over for the opening try, with Doherty converting.

Now an aggregate 15 points ahead, Bann continued to control the exchanges without offering Navan a way back into the contest. The centre pairing of Finnegan and Ben Carson were relentless in their tackling, shutting down any potential threats at source.

And with flanker Alex Weir following up his man-of-the-match display in Navan with a 19-tackle haul in this game, the scraps that Navan were left to feed off never offered their large band of travelling supporters any hope that their favourites could avoid the drop.

Despite their dominance, Bann had to wait until the last play of the first half for their second score. And fittingly it was three-season skipper Michael Cromie who crossed the line, from the closest of ranges, after Neil Kilpatrick and McCann had gone close to touching down. Doherty’s conversion gave a 14-0 interval scoreline and a 22 point gap for Navan to close.

It was always going to be beyond them. And Bann could afford to blow a couple of gilt-edged opportunities to set up attacking lineouts through inaccurate line kicking and still remain in control.

In the 65th minute Conor Field brought his AIL try tally to eight when he finished off a fine individual run down the flank with a superb touchdown right at the corner flag. Doherty converted and split the posts with a penalty to finish the scoring.

It wasn’t 80 minutes of exhilarating rugby, but in the conditions and given the enormity of the outcome, Bann executed exactly the right game plan. And the huge home support cheered their team off the pitch as they anticipated another season of Energia All-Ireland Division 1 rugby.

McDowell said he was pleased that his squad had left their best performance of the season to when it mattered most.

“I thought outside of the first 10 minutes we were pretty comfortable in the game,” he said. “It was really just a case of just slowly trying to work ourselves into positions to get points. Certainly the weather was a little bit more challenging than we expected and it proved quite difficult to gain entry into the Navan “22”.

“So it was a case of when we got in just being ruthless and taking away points when we could and I was really pleased that we were able to do that. With us being 14-0 up at half-time and 22 points on aggregate, we knew that Navan were going to have to try to keep the ball in hand in the second half. So the challenge for the boys was just to remain patient in defence and just enjoy defending, forcing them into mistakes.

“Thankfully then Conor got that very good try in the corner which really put the result beyond doubt. It was enjoyable having it being relatively comfortable in the last quarter hour rather than being a nail-biter. It just reinforces for me that whenever the guys we have get it right we should be looking higher up the table.”

Bann team: Adam Doherty, Conor Field, Joe Finnegan, Ben Carson, Josh Cromie, Andrew Morrison, Neil Kilpatrick, Michael Cromie (Captain), Peter Cromie, Stuart Cromie, Brendan McSorley, Matthew Laird, Alex Weir, David McCann, Robin Sinton. Replacements: Tim Savage, Josh Chambers, Christian Trimble, Martin Vorster, Max Lyttle, Aaron Kennedy, Macauley Little, Ross Cartmill.

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