Last kick agony for Ards at Larne
Losing bonus point gained but Ards rue missed chances
Ards took to the road on Saturday for their first Ulster Championship 2 away fixture at Larne RFC. The Glynn is never the easiest place to visit, with rough weather even on the best of days, a small sloping pitch and a perennially tough opposition to face - although their clubhouse is excellent and they are among the best hosts in Ulster rugby circles.
Ards travelled with a few changes to the squad. Pete Croan and Davy Calvert returned to the pack and Mark McLean replaced the rested Adam Coulter in the backline. The home side produced their usually substantial pack and a backline that were known to have a number of stand out players.
The day was dry, but with a swirling gale blowing around the pitch as the visitors started the match playing uphill. The first half for the visitors was one of keeping the ball in hand and working through the phases and for the home side was one of kicking for territory with the wind advantage and launching their excellent centres in attack.
As is the way in such conditions, Ards enjoyed the majority of defensive duties and the minimum of territory. Larne's tactic of moving through their backs and keeping their forwards tight was a tough combination to face. The weather did play its part and handling errors on both sides made the half a fractious affair.
Larne opened the scoring with a penalty, matched by one in return from Trevor Devlin. An effective status quo of missed opportunities and two dogged defences cancelling each other out led to only one further score, with the home team converting a penalty to take a 6-3 lead into the half time break.
Half time: Larne 6 v Ards 3
Having done the hard work, Ards knew they now had the chance to make the conditions work to their advantage in the second half. However, a handling error on their 22 and the bounce of the ball saw the Larne centre take off on a run to the line. The pursuing Mark McLean pulled up with a hamstring injury and Larne took a converted try and a 13-3 lead.
Knowing the conditions and the lack of space to work, Ards now had a mountain to climb. Keeping themselves in the Larne half for long periods, chances were created and on two occasions, players were clean through to score, but dropped the ball. Pressing their momentum and with Graeme Taylor revelling at inside centre, Ards moved through their phases and Mark Banford found Taylor for a try converted by Devlin, 13-10.
With a building penalty count in their favour, the visitors switched to their line out, with Croan and Calvert in good form. From a series of drives, the ball was taken close twice, before Ross Torney crashed through a resolute defence to score out wide. The conversion from Devlin just wide, Ards were now in front for the first time. Larne 13 v Ards 15
The final 15 minutes were to bring much drama and matters for debate. Larne found a second wind and their intelligent backline were creating problems. With 8 minutes to go, a quick tap penalty was taken just inside the Ards half and with some great interchanges, the Larne wing was released and took a great line inside to cross the line, but dropped the ball in the act of scoring. Ards were awarded a 5 metre scrum next to their line and ran the ball out to create space for a clearance kick.
In the ensuing ruck, the young Larne captain was cleared out when in awkward position and suffered an obviously serious knee injury that required an immediate call for an ambulance. With a couple of minutes left and after some debate, the referee permitted the match to be switched to an even smaller and steeper adjacent pitch for the balance of the time to be played out.
Playing the game out, Ards were penalised for a player not rolling away near halfway and the smart Larne scrum half took a quick tap and found another penalty awarded straight away in easy kicking range. Slotting the kick over with the final play of the match, Larne took the win by a point, by 16 points to 15.
A disappointing end for the visitors, having outscored the usually freescoring home team by 2 tries to 1 and having, marginally, the better of the opportunities throughout.
Our thoughts are with Larne's Charlie Cloke following his injury and all at Ards RFC wish him a full recovery and return to play as soon as possible.