- Result: Galwegians Firsts 34 - Malone 25
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Nov 15th 2014
- Competition: AIL Division 1B
Galwegians made it six wins out of seven when they overcame Belfast side Malone in nine-try thriller at Crowley Park on Saturday to maintain their commanding lead at the top of UBL Division 1b. However despite bagging six tries, they made hard work of overcoming their dogged opponents who threatened to spoil the party in a topsy turvey second-half.
After returning to winning ways last week at Corinthians, Wegians started with intent and they took the game to their opponents right from the off. Despite missing the influential John Cleary and Brian Murphy, their backline produced some sparkling rugby, and they opened the scoring after 8 minutes when some excellent handing by Conor Lowndes and Jerome Harrimate sent full-back Ciaran Gaffney over for the opening try, which was converted by Lowndes. Almost from the restart the Blues bagged their second try, when some more swift backline play saw the in-form Colin Conroy make a break from inside his own half, and his sheer pace outwitted the defence to cross near the right-hand corner.
12-0 up after only ten minutes, Wegians looked set for a comfortable afternoon stroll, however their opponents had other ideas. Having beaten last week’s table-toppers Ballymena away, the Belfast Red Sox soon got over their shaky start, and they opened their account with a 12th minute try. Following an excellent penalty kick to the corner, a well-drilled lineout maul resulted in prop Ross Kane touching down for a try. Centre Josh Pentland was off target with the conversion, but he landed a penalty soon after to reduce the deficit to 12-8.
However Wegians were well on top and utterly dominated the second quarter. Conroy thought he had scored his second try of the game on the left, only for ref Andy Brace to rule a forward pass in the build-up. The usually accurate Lowndes was having an off-day with his place-kicking, missing two penalties. But a third try for the Blues was not long coming, and when Gaffney launched a speculative garryowen, the Malone defence failed to secure possession. A strong surge and neat offload from Wegians’ lock forward Marty Cummins fed Lowndes who touched down near the left-hand corner. The talented youngster was unlucky with the conversion attempt which just fell short of the crossbar, but the inevitable bonus fourth try arrived on the stroke of half-time, when a trademark lineout maul resulted in captain Ja Naughton grounding the ball over the line.
The Blues took what seemed like a comfortable 22-8 lead into the second-half, and really ought to have been out of sight. However credit to the Ulstermen who came out of the blocks to really take the game by the scruff of the neck. Two minutes after the restart they were rewarded when some neat backline play saw winger Adam Liddell cross on the right for their second try, with Pentland converting to reduce arrears to 22-15. Five minutes later it was déjà vu as the visitors laid siege to the Wegians’ line, and with the defensive cover sucked in, the ball was sped wide to Liddell who again dotted down in the same spot. The accurate Pentland again found his range to pull the sides level.
Wegians’ nightmare third quarter continued as they fell behind for the first time just before the hour mark, when Ulster U-20 out-half Josh Bingham dropped a sweet goal to give his side a 25-22 lead. This finally seemed to sting the Blues into action, and following some stern words from coach Matt Brown they finally regained the initiative and went on the offensive. The turning point came in the 65th minute when a loose clearance kick from Malone’s no.8 Connor Joyce was gathered by full-back Gaffney. The Irish U-20 cap threaded a neat chip through which was latched onto by the alert Lowndes who ran in for his second and Galwegians’s fifth try.
Although off target again with the conversion, crucially the Blues had their noses in front again at 27-25. And with self-belief restored, two minutes later it got even better for the hosts when an attempted break-out from deep by Malone saw substitute winger Matt Dever intercept a chip by his opposite number, and he brilliantly held onto the ball to race home and dive over near the left for an opportunist individual score. Gaffney landed a superb conversion this time, and suddenly the Blues had some daylight again over the opposition on the scoreboard.
The bizarre nature of this game was illustrated by the fact that despite scoring six tries and utterly dominating for long periods of the contest, Wegians entered the final ten minutes unsure of victory, as the visitors threw everything at them in search of something. Indeed two weeks ago the Blues failed to see out a nine-point winning lead at home to Ulster opposition. But this time they made no mistake as gritty, determined and disciplined defence kept out the visitors, who were somewhat unlucky not to get one, if not two bonus points.
This victory puts Wegians seven points clear of the chasing pack as the season nears the halfway point. Next week they have a chance to further cement their position when they play host to another Belfast side, the struggling Belfast Harlequins who currently languish bottom of the table after their defeat away to Corinthians on Saturday.
Replacements: P O’Donnell, P MacCreanor, M Dever, R Shaughnessy, R Moore