Last Saturday saw the visit of Instonians RFC to Hamilton Park for a pre-season friendly match. Insts were Kukri Ulster Championship One champions last season and narrowly missed out on promotion to the senior ranks in the play-offs.
In the off-season they have made a number of significant signings to go one further this term, including the addition of retiring Ulster Rugby scrum half Paul Marshall.
The hosts had an excellent consolidating season also, as they too seek to climb the ladder into Kukri Ulster Qualifying Championship One.
The home side have made a number of excellent signings and secured the return of several influential players.
Whilst neither side had a full complement, with each missing players due to holidays and injury, both managed to present very strong squads for this 4 x 20 minute format encounter.
Ards started the opening quarter the stronger and took the majority of possession and territory throughout.
Despite having a number of opportunities, the Insts defence was too fresh and strong to be breached and the period ended scoreless.
Both teams set a standard of almost error free rugby, good phase building and organised defence that would feature throughout the day.
The second quarter saw both teams become more expansive and attempt to overcome the deadlock seen in the first passage of play.
A loose defensive clearance kick saw the Insts openside flanker gather in open play inside his own half and pick an excellent running line. Trying to adjust in the backfield, Ards were undone as the flanker’s exceptional pace saw him take the opening unconverted score for a 0-5 lead.
Ards shortly returned to their good phase building and working their way into the Inst 22 well, earned a 5 metre scrum. The ball was flashed out to winger Michael Lawton, who drove into a gap and offloaded to the supporting Trevor Devlin for a score. The conversion from Paul Cox was good and Ards took the lead 7-5.
The third period saw possession swing in favour of Insts as their ball carrying and phase building stepped up a gear and line breaks were being earned. The final few minutes saw the fast and physical Insts inside centre just held up over the line and Ards' defensive mettle was severely tested as they held out and forced vital turnovers to leave the quarter scoreless.
With both sides making multiple changes and knocks forcing a number of players to rest, the penultimate and, particularly, final periods saw all participants having good game time.
As it was, Insts held the better percentage of territory in the closing period and their inside centre made no mistake, taking 2 scores from good opportunities created for him as the clock ran down. With one conversion successful, Insts took the contest 17-7
In an intense contest played out at strong tempo and in worsening rain and wind, the error count from both sides was very low and the quality of rugby produced pleasing for both coaching teams, with each squad enjoying another beneficial step towards their incoming campaigns.
Our thanks go to Insts for a physical and competitive match and to Referee Paul Baxter for his excellent officiating throughout.
Updated 20:21 - 13 Aug 2018 by STEPHEN NUTT