Malone just fall short at home in a pulsating game to the Students of Queens University
Malone lost their unbeaten run against a very determined team of students from Queens University
Report compiled by George Millar
The students came, they played and they conquered unbeaten Malone at Gibson Park on Friday night in front of several hundred supporters. Their presence created a wonderful atmosphere with the hard work shown by club volunteers ensuring the magnificent newly refurbished downstairs bar was well received by all those present. The rugby was competitive and enterprising on a damp, drizzly night that kept supporters on their toes. Queens strategy was to fill the pitch and deny space to the hard running Malone backline.
The game was in the balance until midway through the second half when Ulster replacement scrum half Jonny Stewart entered the contest for the students. His vision and pace proved all to much for a tiring Malone defence as he scored the students second try to give his side a two score advantage that despite the best efforts of the Malone players they could not claw back. Indiscipline on the Queens line was quickly penalised by referee Jonathan Peak to allow the students to clear their lines.
What a wonderful atmosphere was created for the players of both teams to enter battle with both sets of supporters clapping and cheering their teams on to the pitch. Both teams were virtually at full strength with Queens missing their influential number 8 Daniel Dass and Malone still having to play without the injured Callum Smith and Dave Cave.
Malone may have had the upper hand in the set piece, but it was the students back row led by their Captain Nigel Simpson, Jonny Lees and the outstanding Dave Whitten filling in at number 8 who dominated the break down area throughout the match. Once again the Malone centre pairing of Nathan Brown and Michael Cartmill showed early promise with strong carries that maybe should have produced more with handling errors denying the team an early score. The students demonstrated they hadn’t come to make up the numbers as they suddenly switched play to the Malone line through their pacey three quarters. From a five metre scrum Malone had their clearance kick charged down only for the ball to clear the in goal area. We knew we were in for a contest and quickly Malone looked to have made the early break through. Some slick handling involving out half Josh Pentland and Nathan Brown denied centre Michael Cartmill a wonderful try with referee Jonathan Peak calling the play back for a forward pass. Queens showed their defensive qualities as they dug deep to deny the home side any points during a period of pressure as they turned over ball to clear their lines.
The danger signs had not been picked up by Malone as their kick and chase game did not match the hunger and desire of the students to make ground. In Ritchie McMaster they have one of the best game managers in club rugby. McMaster sat deep with his three quarters to scoop up the Malone kicks and swiftly transfer the pressure deep into the Malone twenty two. The intensity of the contact was emphasised when a tackle by Malone centre Nathan Brown forced Queens second row Ali Burke from the pitch to be replaced by Gary Dillon.
Again handling errors by the home side allowed the students to win two penalties with out half Ritchie McMaster opening the scoring with a straight forward penalty after 35 mins to give his side an early 3 – 0 lead.
The Malone response was immediate. The team showed what they are capable of with a patient and controlled period of ball retention in the Queens twenty two with centre Nathan Brown breaking through to score the first try in the corner with winger Rory Campbell unable to add the points. In the minutes before halftime both teams threatened before the referee brought to a conclusion a highly entertaining game of rugby with Malone leading 5 – 3.
It was the visitors who looked the most dangerous in the opening minutes with their strong carrying centre Rory Bell being allowed to make considerable ground. With Queens on the front foot they used his pace to put number 8 Dave Whitten through for an excellent try converted by Ritchie McMaster to give the students a 10 – 5 lead. Malone made a change with Scott Finlay replacing Dan Kerr at hooker. Malone responded from the kick off securing a penalty 35 metres out with Rory Campbell converting to narrow the Queens lead to 10 – 8.
The experienced students axis of John Creighton and Ritchie McMaster at 9 and 10 had been driving the pace of the visitors approach to the game. Their Head coach Neil Doak decided it was time to release Ulster scrum half Jonny Stewart into the action as he replaced John Creighton. Queens teams play with pace and they continued to press this Malone team through their accurate kicking using the pace of their threequarters Mark Keane, Jonny Milliken and Jack Milligan to switch play deep into the Malone twenty two. Another straight forward McMaster penalty restored the five point advantage to Queens for them to take a 13 – 8 lead. What Queens were doing at this critical stage of the game was keeping the scoreboard ticking over to their advantage. Malone made a further change with their struggling scrum half Shane Kelly having to be replaced by Connor Spence. It was another Campbell penalty that narrowed the students lead to 13 – 11.
Sadly for Malone it was during this period they were penalised by referee Jonathan Peak after several promising attacks close to the Queens line again allowing the students to clear their lines. Queens introduced Ulster Academy back Angus Curtis to close the game out. At the end of the third quarter Queens made the decisive break through with their back row forward Jonny Lees breaching the Malone defence for Ulster scrum half Jonny Stewart to scorch in from 20 metres to touch down to the right of the posts with McMaster adding the points to give the students a commanding 20 – 11 lead.
Malone Head coach Paddy Armstrong made a number of changes in the forwards with Josh Davidson replacing Matthew Dalton and Philip Eadie replacing Ben Halliday. With the game in the final quarter the work load on the students players was taking it toll with several of their players having to receive treatment. The stop start nature of the game in this final quarter never allowed Malone to be allowed to build any momentum. Again another promising attack on the visitors line looked certain to produce a score for the home side only for the whistle of referee Jonathan Peak to once again allow the students to clear their lines. Malone did continue to exert pressure but the stop start nature of the game allowed them to get no continuity into their game. One promising break by Malone prop Peter Cooper again came to nothing with poor handling and tenacious Queens defending keeping the home side from scoring.
With the game entering injury time the Malone team were awarded a penalty 40 metres out. They chose the lineout option and with it went any hope of picking up a losing bonus point. After six minutes of injury time the referee Jonathan Peak ended this entertaining game with the students deserved winners on their strong second half showing. It was not the 80 min performance we expected from this Malone team with Captain Ross Todd having to now rally his players with a crucial block of UBL games coming up against Greystones and Galway Corinthians home and away. City of Armagh were riding high until they lost at Blackrock College. Now they have lost their last four UBL matches. As many Malone supporters said after the defeat on Friday night. It is how the players and the team will respond after this defeat that could determine their ambitions for the remainder of the season in the clubs 125th Anniversary season.
For this Malone team a win over the students would have opened up an 10/11 point advantage. Instead the win for Queens has narrowed their advantage to three points with six points now separating the top four teams. Highfield after winning at City of Armagh are now only one point behind Malone. It means that three of the four teams who finished in the top four last season (Malone, Nenagh Ormond, Highfield) remain in contention and are joined by a Queens team bolstered by the presence of experienced players such as John Creighton, Ritchie McMaster, Jonny Lees and Daniel Dass who can have a big say in the outcome of this league. What impact will Ireland under 20 involvement have for Queens with the involvement of Jonny Stewart, Angus Curtis and Mark Keane have on their ambitions.
Malone team 1. Ben Halliday, 2. Danny Kerr, 3. Peter Cooper, 4. Matt Dalton, 5. Michael Shiels, 6. Joe Dunleavy, 7. Ross Todd (Captain), 8. Ryan Clarke, 9. Shane Kelly, 10. Josh Pentland, 11. David McMaster, 12. Nathan Brown, 13. Michael Cartmill, 14. Rory Campbell, 15. Jack Owens, 16. Phil Eadie, 17. Scott Finlay, 18. Josh Davidson, 19. Connor Spence, 20. Mark O’Connor.
Queens team 1. Anton Lupari, 2. David Swann, 3. Andrew Clingan, 4. Marc Campbell, 5. Ali Burke, 6. Nigel Simpson (Captain), 7. Jonny Lees, 8. David Whitten, 9. John Creighton, 10. Ritchie McMaster, 11. Jonny Milliken, 12. Rory Bell, 13. Connor Shiels, 14. Mark Keane, 15. Jack Milligan, 16. Jonny Stewart, 17. Angus Curtis, 18. Alexander Clarke, 19. Jonny Black, 20. Gary Dillon.
Several of the more established Malone players struggled on Friday night and looked tired and jaded. It has been a busy time for all concerned at the club with the 1st and 2nd xv involved in pursuit of league and Cup competitions at this early stage of the season. It has meant that the coaches have been unable to rest tired bodies. Queens have a rest weekend before they resume UBL action on the 25th November with three games to be played before the Xmas break on the 9th December. For the Malone players there is a First Trust Senior Cup semi final at City of Armagh next Saturday before they resume UBL action away to Greystones on the 25thNovember. Both the finals of the Senior Cup and the Junior Cup are to be played at the Kingspan stadium on the 19th and 21st December with Malone seconds potentially involved. With the Xmas weekend of the 23rd December due to be a rest weekend Malone seconds are now having to travel to Limavady to play a postponed Conference league game as the team pursue the Conference league two title.
Friday night was a success in terms of promoting Friday night rugby at Gibson Park. The opening of the new downstairs bar created a lot of interest for members and visitors. There are many lessons for the Club Management committee to review. There was traffic gridlock with little or known information being conveyed to supporters in advance of the game on parking arrangements through social media and the clubs website.. Many supporters needed to be directed to park on Ladas Drive and use the short walk from Ladas Way via Daddy Winkers Lane into the club to avoid the traffic congestion. With the main carpark closed at the club all traffic was heading into Gibson Park from the Cregagh Road with no stewards or police in attendance to manage. Only one club member was dealing with hundreds of supporters coming through a single entrance gate that brought critical comments. Staffing was clearly an issue with the club unable to open up the upstairs bar. It is from these experiences the club will learn and continue to attract supporters to make use of the magnificent facilities the club has invested in, in recent years. Members and guests can avail of hot food prior to games but no such source is available for supporters. Couldn’t help but notice several club members who provide such services at the Kingspan stadium who would not have been able to help out on a damp night at Gibson Park.
Despite everything it was a wonderful night at Gibson Park. The result may not have favoured the home side but club rugby was the winner on this occasion. As one club member put it to me. You are to blame. You are shouting that the public should come out and support club rugby. They answered in their hundreds. Well done to everybody who made the effort to be present at this memorable night at Gibson Park.
Davy Heron and his seconds made it through their rearranged game against Omagh seconds on Sat afternoon to win 26 – 19. Scorers were James Rae, Tom Dullage, Austen Blackburn and Aaron McKechnie 1 x try each with Bruce Duff 3 x cons. Next Saturday the seconds travel to Academy. They are now one point behind Conference 2 league leaders Grosvenor with a game in hand. We wish them well in their efforts to win this league that has to be completed by the 30th December before they start their second xv league programme in the new year. It has taken a ‘mammoth’ effort by David Heron, Sam McBurney and the players to have been competitive in the Conference league and the Junior Cup this season. Well done again to both them and Captain Ricky Greenwood.
Malone thirds returned to the top of Ulster rugby Provincial league 2 after winning 22 – 13 at Shaws bridge against Instonians seconds.
Next Saturday they are home to second place Rainey 2nds.
Success breeds success and there is no let up for the clubs 1st,2nd and 3rd xv sides next week. It is so important the clubs members and supporters come out in large numbers to get behind the teams. Well done guys.