Banbridge RFC outplayed by Old Wesley in another painful defeat

Banbridge’s search for a first All-Ireland League win of the season continues after the Rifle Park side fell to their eighth defeat in as many games, overcome by an Old Wesley outfit who, according to Bann Coach Mark McDowell, tactically outplayed their northern visitors.

Ian Porter gets his pass away to brother John in Bann Thirds league game against Queen's Seconds.Picture: John Mullan

Certainly in terms of territory Wesley had a distinct advantage, limiting Bann to three and at most four forays into the home “22”. And yet despite that, with 76 minutes played, the Co Down side was just 17-14 in arrears, with Jonny Murphy’s 65th minute try off a driven lineout and maul having brought his side within a penalty kick of the opposition.

Nine minutes later Bann won a scrum penalty on halfway and Adam Doherty’s kick set them up with an attacking lineout deep in the home “22”. But for possibly the only time in the game, the lineout malfunctioned and Wesley won the first of three penalties in rapid succession. That saw them throw into a lineout close to the Bann line, and from the play that followed winger David Poff was able to find space to touch down for his side’s bonus point try. Ian Cassidy’s kicking off the tee had been erratic up to that point, but the out-half found the target from the touchline to open up a ten point gap that Bann had no hope of closing in the time remaining.

“Wesley did a really good job, especially in the second half, of pinning us in our red zone,” added McDowell. “We struggled to exit from that and only showed glimpses of the attacking threat that had seen us run league leaders Highfield close last Saturday.”

Chris Berry in full flight in Bann Thirds's 10-28 defeat by Queens Seconds. Picture: John Mullan

Cassidy had been off-target with a 3rd minute shot at the posts. But after Josh Cromie had been yellow-carded Bann were still able to win a penalty opportunity which Doherty converted from 47 metres to open the scoring. With Bann still a player short, Wesley lock Iain McGann found a gap in Bann’s midfield defence to canter the 15 metres to the posts, with Cassidy adding the extras.

When the Bann pack had the opposition eight on the back foot at the first settled scrum, Doherty added a second penalty for a 7-6 scoreline midway through the half. Out-half Andrew Morrison’s long raking kicks, aided and abetted by good chases, relieved the pressure on the visitors’ line and set up Doherty for another successful long-range penalty.

“On 39 minutes I was really pleased to be going into the break 9-7 up,” said McDowell. “Unfortunately, we gave away a penalty in midfield which gave them entry into our “22” and we conceded a try just before half-time. The key moments in the game were that try late in the first half and their third try early in the second half.”

Hooker Ben Burns had finished off that first half drive off a lineout and nine minutes after the break replacement Paddy McKenzie touched down after another infringement had seen Bann unsuccessfully fend off a move off a lineout 10 metres out from their line.

Adam Cromwell tests the Queen's defence. Picture: John Mullan

Bann were paying a heavy penalty for straying outside the referee’s interpretation of the Laws.

“But true to form,” said McDowell, “we rallied and continued to fight and continued to stick in the game to the point where on 76 minutes it was 17-14. But we didn’t convert that opportunity off the lineout and Wesley scored at the other end to take the losing bonus point off us.

“We didn’t produce as strong a performance as against Highfield in terms of our attacking play. I thought that defensively we did a lot of things really well and actually nullified Wesley pretty successfully at times because there were large parts of that game when we were really under the pump. But we stood up to that challenge well and defended well in large parts.

“I was disappointed in what we produced in our attacking game. We didn’t create as much as we have created in previous weeks. But a large part of that is due to the pressure that Wesley were exerting on us. We just struggled to hold onto the ball for long enough to really challenge them.

John Porter on his way to the try line in Bann Thirds' game against Queen's Seconds. Picture: John Mullan

“The players spoke after the game about how the number of penalties we conceded had affected the outcome. To be honest I was disappointed with some of the decisions. But we have to react when decisions aren’t going our way and re-strategise. But certainly indiscipline in the middle of the park cost us because it gave them free entry into our “22”.”

Old Belvedere are visitors to Rifle Park on Saturday, a game which marks the half-point in the league season. So did McDowell envisage any changes in tactics or personnel as Bann attempt to turn around their season?

McDowell said: “I truly believe we can beat Belvedere. Regarding changes in personnel, we’re always thinking about changes. But it would be wrong to make changes just for the sake of it. We’ll only do that if we think it will positively influence performances. But that is something we’ll look at.

“Regarding the way we play, we’re always looking at evolving that. There’s not enough time to make drastic changes before Belvedere. But once we get that game out of the way, whatever way it goes, we’ll use the Christmas period and the AIL break as effectively as we can to develop our game further.”