U18s beat Randalstown 10-8
By Philip Johnston
18's edge thriller
This week saw the visit to Gibson Park of our closest on pitch rivals in recent years – Randalstown. These games over the years have been tense, fraught, usually controversial and typically loud affairs (yes you know who I mean…in fact anyone involved in youth rugby in Ulster knows who I mean!) with both sides enjoying victory over the other during the season. The guys had already played them in a pre-season friendly warm up match. However this was a bit (well completely) one sided as the majority of the team had been out at “Culture Night” on the Friday evening, so although they were on the pitch in body, their minds and all associated functions were probably elsewhere as we lost that fixture 39-0.
So we can only assume that it was an air of confidence (or maybe some might say arrogance) that Randalstown U18s decided that they would forego any warmup before this league encounter, while the Malone players were out grafting and fine tuning things having been denied a Wednesday night training session due to the rain.
And so the sides faced each other, and the whistle blew… Let the games commence! From the outset, Malone were out to avenge for their very under par performance earlier, and were like making every tackle, hitting every ruck and recycling the ball well. For their part Randalstown were steadfast in defence too and so most of the play centered between the two 10m lines or thereabouts with no quarter given be either side. Of the early exchanges Randalstown probably became the most frustrated as things weren’t going their way, and this was certainly not going to be anything like the previous encounter when by this stage they would have been a couple of tries up. This frustration obviously boiled over to their coaching staff when “he who must not be named” started off in his usual brusque manner, and got louder and louder and as his side were not making any ground (or winning, truth be told by the casual observer), became “he who must not be named – the R rated version”. The ref was having none of it and warned him several times to tone things down, before eventually having no option but to send him from the sidelines. Suddenly silence descended, we could hear birds sing, cars driving on the Cregagh road, I’m pretty sure you could even hear the hum of the freezers in Iceland...
Both sides were still battling and no quarter being given, Randalstown (again confidence / arrogance blurred lines) shunned a couple of kickable penalties, (especially for their kicker Stefan) to punt for the corner, only to be thwarted in the resulting lineouts and game play. However when the chance came to Malone, Matty slotted our penalty towards the posts… “Clang” as it hit the upright... not again!! (frequent followers of Matty’s kicking career will know that if there were an upright challenge at Ravenhill, he’d hit it every time!)... but lady luck was looking down on him today as even though it hit the upright, it bounced between the posts. A hard fought 3-0 lead which took us into half time.
This seemed to give the Malone guys some more impetus (not that they needed it) as after several minutes into the 2nd half, Randalstown had over-committed too many players in a few rucks to leave Oran wide out on the left wing on his own screaming for the ball and with a deft cross field kick – not quite to Oran’s hands, but just in front of the try line and as it rolled forward, Oran with a gazelle like leap and outstretched hand, touched the ball down for a try (ok, ok, he more or less fell onto it, but that just doesn’t sound as poetic). 8-0 to Malone and conversion to come (well it was from the sidelines and it was Mr. Inconsistent Kicker himself…) However with a dynamic strike worthy of Johnny Sexton, Johnny Wilkinson or even Johnny Vegas, Matty stroked the conversion through the posts... 10-0. Randalstown obviously didn’t see that coming or maybe, just maybe they might have bothered to warm-up... Still about 20 mins to go... Jeez, this is a nail biter!
A few minutes later Malone were penalized and Stefan stepped up to slot it home from about 10m in from sideline.
10-3 and still ~ 15mins to go – the tension was unbearable, and as the U16 match was now over, the sidelines were crammed with even more vocal and partisan supporters. Again play centered between the 10m lines when a strong run from the Randalstown no.10 saw him slip a couple of tackles before touching down.
10-8 and conversion still to come from Stefan in roughly the same place he’d landed the penalty from minutes before… Wide!! He pulled it wide!! Still 10-8 to Malone.
“How long ref was the cry”… “9 minutes”... Aargh!! Can’t cope!! Freaking out!
And so play battled on for what “seemed” like 9 minutes (pretty sure it was...but you know these modern digital timepiece things and how flaky they can be) – again ref “how long?”… 4 – Yes 4 minutes… Like wha - seriously??
There was nothing more we could do, but chew on our nails and clench our cheeks in the finest tradition of Sir Alex Ferguson’s “squeaky bum” time… Again Randalstown threatened and again we held steadfast in defence, the guys were putting themselves all over the place, emptying their tanks and going well into reserves...
“Last play” was heard, but Randalstown had the ball, and were threatening at our 22 – could we hold on, can we keep soaking this level of pressure up… Well, yes we could as Randalstown tried to offload to their wing, the pass didn’t go to hand – knock on – but it didn’t matter as the full time whistle went. Malone won 10-8, this was a superb effort all round with the guys truly playing to the ability they can (even the spy from the Belfast Met was impressed). For some the victory was enough, for others (who’d been at end of a “odd” decision in the U16 cup semi-final), the sheer irony of Stefan’s missed kick made it even more sweeter
We can now look forward to a few training weeks to regroup and fine tune things.
The return fixture will be up at Randalstown on 2nd Feb and will again no doubt be a “meaty” affair as these two teams have battled each other the past 7/8 years and this will be their final encounter, so if you have a nervous disposition, weak stomach or even sensitive hearing (yes, we can guarantee “he who should not be named” will be in super R rated overload), perhaps one to miss.. for the rest of us BRING IT ON!!