- Result: Galwegians Firsts 18 - Sligo 10
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Oct 5th 2019
- Competition: AIL Division 2B
Galwegians got their Energia AIL Division 2B campaign off to the perfect start with an excellent and thoroughly deserved win at home to Sligo on Saturday.
The visitors came into this contest much-fancied after they landed their first-ever Connacht Senior League title last month. Playing with the aid of a mild first-half breeze and in damp conditions, Sligo soon set about dominating the early exchanges upfront with their big pack well on top in the set-piece play. However there was a nervousness and edge about the visitors who struggled to gain their rhythm, with the hard-working Wegians defence not letting them settle.
Sligo had a chance to draw first blood when awarded a very kickable penalty near the 22, only for full-back Euan Brown to miscue his effort. Let off the hook, Wegians were able to clear their lines and winger Sanz Sibande almost created an opening when he made a great block down inside the Sligo half, only for an unlucky bounce see it elude him. However they got a further boost soon after when Sligo talisman and former Connacht player, centre Mata Fifita was sin-binned just after the first quarter for a late tackle.
The Blues took full advantage of the extra man when minutes later they scored the first try of the game. It came from an excellent penalty touch-finder, and when hooker Andrew Paton found his man, a few pick and goes softened up the Sligo defence before flanker Mikey O’Donnell was driven over the line near the right-corner, for what was incredibly his fifth try already this season. Ewan Strang, playing for the first time at out-half, was unlucky when his difficult conversion attempt shaved the posts.
The visitors did open their account barely two minutes later following an infringement from the restart, and this time Brown landed an excellent kick from the 10m line to reduce the gap to 5-3. However Wegians responded well and they began to grow into the game more and more. Despite Sligo being back to 15 men, it was the hosts who were now dominating both territory and possession, with some excellent handling and ball retention frustrating their opponents.
On 36 minutes the Blues struck a telling blow when Strang placed a deft little chip in behind the cover, and centre Tommy Downes won the race to touch down under the posts. Strang’s simple conversion made it 12-3. However Sligo gave themselves a lifeline on the stroke of half-time. When a good attack down the right flank set up a scrum 5, their powerful pack shunted forward and gave scrum-half Ryan Feehily the platform to snipe over for a try. Brown converted to reduce the half-time margin to 12-10.
In the second-half Wegians had the slight breeze at their backs and with the rain having eased off, they soon went in search of more points. Strang saw an early long-range penalty drift just wide in the wind. They were starting to gain the upper hand in the set-piece, and when they snaffled a Sligo lineout inside their 22, they Blues set up camp on the Sligo line. They appeared to score try number three when they clearly grounded the ball over the line, only for referee Glenn Sheridan to have blown up a more second too early to award a penalty. They hammered away on the Sligo line phase after phase, but some dogged defence held them out, limiting the damage to just three points when Strang converted a penalty for offside on 48 minutes to restore a 5-point lead.
For all their effort and toil, Sligo were simply unable to break out of their own half and the hard-working Blues kept them pinned in other own territory, and much of it in the 22. Strang was again unlucky with another couple of penalty attempts, including one where the ball blew over during his run-up. There was one moment which typified the game, when centre Fifita went on one of his trademark rampaging bursts, only to be double-tackled and concede a penalty.
The Blues were by now completely on top, with new captain Marty Cummins leading from the front in the trenches and vice-captain Rory Gaffney controlling matters from the breakdown. Their constant pressure was finally rewarded on 72 minutes when another offside infringement yielded a further penalty which Strang duly converted to give his side an 8-point cushion for the first time. Try as they might, the visitors were simply unable to make any further inroads, and it was the home side who finished out the game where they spent much of it, namely in the opposition 22. And truth be told, Sligo rarely got out of their own half in the entire second period.
The final whistle sounded to seal a remarkable turnaround for new Wegians Head Coach Andrew Browne, whose understrength side suffered a heavy 33-7 defeat against the same opposition exactly two weeks previous. So lessons were clearly learned and applied. Next up for Wegians is what should be a cracking game when they make the short trip to play arch-rivals Corinthians on Friday night in Cloonacauneen in what is an early-season top of the table clash.