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Bann edge themselves off the bottom of Division 1B

OLD BELVEDERE 22 BANBRIDGE 31: Banbridge edged themselves off the bottom of Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League with this bonus point, back-to-back, win over Old Belvedere.

Robin Sinton congratulated by Adam Doherty, Cavid McCann and Rob Lyttle during Banbridge's 22-31 victory over Old Belvedere in the Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League. Picture: John Mullan
Robin Sinton congratulated by Adam Doherty, Cavid McCann and Rob Lyttle during Banbridge's 22-31 victory over Old Belvedere in the Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League. Picture: John Mullan

The win was crucial, given Bann’s plight after a first half to the season which had yielded a solitary win, over the same Dublin opposition last month.

Coach Mark McDowell had talked about that mid-December success as being the spark that “would push us on into the New Year”.

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He described Saturday’s performance as simply the best of the season.

Rob Lyttle off-loads to Joe Finnegan. Picture: John Mullan

“Credit to Old Belvedere – they’re a tough side and a well-drilled side.,” he said.

“But we looked at changing some things, especially in the way that we attacked and thankfully that seems to have borne fruit.

“I thought it was a complete performance – we had power up front and pace in the backs and we made it really difficult for Belvedere to live with us at times. Our ability to hold onto the ball for phases was a really key factor. We didn’t give their defence any time to recover.

“We managed territory well. That’s something that we’ve really tried to work on, tempering expectations and making smart decisions. If another team is going to beat us we want to get back to making it really hard for them, rather than us shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Adam Doherty leaves the Old Belvedere defenders in his wake. Picture: John Mullan

The manner of this win, and the expansive exciting rugby that brought this second victory, gave renewed encouragement to the loyal band of supporters who had made the journey that their side d really had turned the corner.

Indeed the nine point margin of the win does not do full justice to a Bann side which seized the initiative early in the game, steadily building on a 0-5 lead opened up by Conor Field’s 10th minute try, to leave the home side trying to haul back a 16 point deficit with an hour played.

Bann were reinforced by the presence of Ulster players lock David O’Connor, flanker David McCann and winger Rob Lyttle. And it was Lyttle who set the tone for a Bann display which owed everything to positivity, his scintillating 70 metre run having the Belvedere defence stretched to its limit to prevent a 3rd minute try.

Field’s opener came off a scrum just outside Bann’s “22”. Adam Doherty, Joe Finnegan, Matthew Laird and Neil Kilpatrick all had major roles in taking play to the home “22”, before Peter Cromie drew the last defender to put Field in at the corner.

Andrew Morrison touches down for Bann's third try. Picture: John Mullan

Tommy Whittle kicked a penalty for Belvedere before Doherty’s effort at the other end re-bounded off an upright. An injury to centre Josh Cromie forced his retirement from the fray, with Lyttle moving to outside centre and Ross Cartmill coming off the bench to fill the wing position.

Good work by McCann and O’Connor preceded another Belvedere infringement which allowed Doherty to take the score to 3-8. And when home winger Ariel Robles was yellow-carded just before half-time, Doherty increased the punishment by slotting over the kick.

Two minutes after the break, Robin Sinton ran back a clearance kick to initiate an attack that took play to the other side of the pitch before coming back to the left flank where Lyttle’s floated pass put the No 8 in for his side’s second try.

Sinton’s inside pass from a midfield ruck set Lyttle off on another scorching run which might well have produced a third try for the visitors, only to be denied as the final pass caught a chasing defender’s arm. But as play continued to centre in and around the home “22”, Morrison took the feed from a set scrum to take advantage of a missed tackle and force his way over the try line, with Doherty adding the touchline conversion for a 3-23 lead.

Robin Sinton finishing off for Bann's second try. Picture: John Mullan

Leinster Academy hooker John McKee’s 56th minute try off a lineout-maul, converted by Whittle, offered the home side a glimmer of hope. Doherty struck again off the tee for 10-26 before Robles offered recompense for his earlier misdemeanour when he crossed in the corner for a 15-26 scoreline with 71 minutes played.

Bann’s bonus point try finally arrived six minutes from the end and again Lyttle had a significant role, picking up a stray pass off a ruck to get Belvedere on the back foot before Finnegan took it on to find McCann, whose pass put Field in for his second touchdown.

The home side had the final say, with replacement prop Joe Horan bursting out of a ruck following a lineout close to the Bann line to claim his side’s third try, with David Wilkinson adding the extras. But there was no denying Bann’s right to the spoils at the end of a thoroughly entertaining game.

So how much impact had the Ulster squad players on the performance?

“Those three guys were immense,” said the coach. “There’s absolutely no doubt about that. But they were also walking into a squad that had regained its confidence, not just to win games but also to dominate games. They were very much the icing on the cake for me, building on a solid foundation.

“But some of our regular players put in season-best performances. Matthew Laird was outstanding, Josh Chambers on his first AIL start scrummaged brilliantly, Alex Weir gets better week by week and Robin Sinton is playing the rugby of his life at the moment.

“Neil Kilpatrick had his best game – it helps that we were getting front-foot ball.”

Bann face league leaders Old Wesley at Rifle Park this Saturday. “We had a tight game against them in Dublin before Christmas. They’re an excellent side but I believe they’ll be facing a Banbridge side that is significantly more confident in what they’re trying to do than the one they met at Donnybrook.”

Bann side against Old Belvedere:- Adam Doherty, Conor Field, Joe Finnegan, Josh Cromie, Rob Lyttle, Andrew Morrison, Neil Kilpatrick, Josh Chambers, Peter Cromie (Captain), David O’Connor, Matthew Laird, Alex Weir, David McCann, Robin Sinton. Replacements: Tim Savage, Adam Hanna, Martin Vorster, Max Lyttle, Aaron Kennedy, Ross Cartmill.