Malone lose their way at Rifle Park against a very inform Banbridge side
Malone lose their way at Rifle Park against a very inform Banbridge side going down by 15-51
Report compiled by George Millar
Rugby is a game of 80 mins played over two 40 minute halves. What we witnessed at Rifle Park was the home side playing against the slope in the first half to hold a dominant Malone side to 15 - 15 at halftime. Bann Director of Rugby Daniel Soper and his coaching team had done their homework on one of their nearest rivals in the title race and set out a game plan to win this match.
Banbridge had scored an early converted try through their hooker Peter Cromie, converted by out half Adam Doherty to give them a 7 - 0 lead. After their slow start the Malone team started to exert pressure with a solid platform in the scrums. Prop Ben Halliday showed his ball carrying skills to carry play towards the Banbridge line. Quick ball from a ruck allowed scrum half Shane Kelly to touch down with full back Mark O'Connor adding the points to level the score. Within three minutes Malone had added a second try to increase their lead to 12 - 7. Good handling involving Dave Cave, Michael Cartmill, Mark McCrea, Callum Smith and Neil Alcorn carried play towards the Bann line . Once again quick ball allowed Callum Smith to put winger Nathan Brown in for a try in the right corner with Mark O'Connor unable to add the conversion.
Malone knocked on from the kick off to give Banbridge possession. Again the home side drove deep into the Malone twenty two to win a penalty with Adam Doherty narrowing the Malone lead to 12 - 10. The visitors reasserted themselves putting Banbridge under pressure at several set scrums to gain a foot hold in the Bann twenty two. Handling errors and two knock on's denied Malone further scores. The Belfast side kept up the pressure and were denied a try when Banbridge right winger John Porter deliberately knocked on to receive a yellow card from referee Richard Kerr. Malone had to be satisfied with only three points from the resultant penalty converted by Mark O'Connor to increase their lead to 15 - 10.
Malone failed to capitalise on their one man advantage to allow Banbridge to once again attack the visitors line. Winger Jack McMurtry was forced to carry over his own line to give the home side a five metre scrum. Eventually the pressure told with Banbridge captain Adam Ervine squeezing over for an unconverted try to level the scores at 15 - 15.
Again the Gibson Park side came back with some exciting and incisive handling involving both backs and forwards. Unfortunately for all this possession and territory the Belfast side were coming away with no points with Mark O'Connor failing to convert 35 metre penalty. Banbridge were looking dangerous during the sin binning with number 8 Stephen Irvine prominent with the ball.
The half ended with no further scoring. One suspected that Malone by failing to convert all their possession and territory into points would be on the back foot in the second half. Banbridge coach Daniel Soper would be the happier with the advantage of the slope in the second half.
Malone made a number of changes with Connor Spence replacing Shane Kelly and Richard Millar replacing Josh Davidson. It was a case of Banbridge taking control of the game by containing Malone in their twenty two with their second row Mike Bentley carrying strongly. Eventually the onslaught left the referee with no alternative but to yellow card Malone scrum half Connor Spence. From the resultant penalty Adam Doherty put Banbridge 18 - 15 ahead ten minutes into the second half. Despite being a player down Malone forwards made some progress into the Banbridge half only to be met by a determined Banbridge defence. With Bann outhalf Adam Doherty, Centre Andy Morrison and full back Adam Ervine kicking astutely to pin the Malone team back into their half the visitors attacking options were being closed down by the line speed of the Banbridge forwards and backs. The next score in this match would be crucial and with a player advantage Bann centre Andy Morrison showed his pace and power to score a try converted by Adam Doherty to increase their lead to 25 - 15 twenty minutes into the second half.
With Malone back up to 15 players the danger signs were their for the visitors as the home side continued to kick deep forcing the Malone three quarters to attack from deep. The other area of concern was the Malone scrum with it coming under ever increasing pressure from a now dominant Banbridge front row. The home side had a further 30 metre penalty to increase their lead with Adam Doherty pushing his attempt wide after another scrum penalty.
One of Malone's key backs Michael Cartmill suffered an injury and was forced to leave the pitch with 15 minutes left on the clock. This injury forced a reshuffle with Nathan Brown moving into the centre and Kieran Joyce coming on to the wing. With the Malone scrum under pressure Gary Crawford came on at loose head with Dane Fitzpatrick moving to tight head to replace Ben Halliday.
How would this Malone team respond. They needed to show the resilience of the Banbridge team in the first half to get themselves back into the match with ten minutes remaining. Any league points were crucial with the league so tight at the top.
What happened in the final ten minutes was a capitulation by this Malone team. First up Banbridge second row Mike Bentley galloped in from forty metres unopposed to score the bonus point try with Doherty adding the points to increase his teams lead to 32 - 15. Aimless kicking by the Malone backs enabled Banbridge to score three further tries through Adam Ervine (2) and Andy Morrison with Adam Doherty converting two to leave Banbridge winners by 51 - 15.
Banbridge had brought Malone's eight match unbeaten run in the UBL to a abrupt end. The difference between the two teams was Banbridge had a plan and played for 80 mins. Malone were in the match for 60 mins and just run out of ideas. All unbeaten runs come to an end but it was the manner in which this run ended for Malone. Banbridge have been battling for five seasons to secure promotion to Division 1B. Maybe this is their season with three matches remaining. They are also aware that their Ulster neighbours Malone and Queens Uni can help their promotion ambitions as they have games coming up against their nearest two challengers Highfield and Nenagh Ormond.
Malone now have a weekend off before they play Belfast neighbours Queens Uni in a crucial UBL match on the 25th March at Gibson Park. Coaches Paddy Armstrong, Josh Pentland and Mark Taylor have two weeks to keep this Malone squad focused on finishing in the top four with a further three games coming up against Nenagh Ormond, Highfield and Cashel. Can this squad bounce back from the Banbridge defeat and maintain their promotion ambitions. They will have learned from a Banbridge team who never gave up. Malone will be aware they squandered several try scoring opportunities in the first half as they failed to build a 15/20 point advantage on Banbridge going into the second half.
For the Malone faithful Malone seconds continue their preparations for their all important McCrea Cup semi final against Queens seconds on the 25th March when they entertain Towns Cup semi finalists Armagh seconds at Gibson Park on Thursday the 16th March with a 7.45PM kick off. All support welcome.
Malone under 18s play their third match in the Nutty Krust at Chambers Park on Wednesday the 15th March with a 7.45PM kick off. Again all support welcomed.