Ards get first away League win of the season at Limavady!
Last minute conversion by Cox to secure a comeback win!
Ards 1st XV took their longest road trip of the season on Saturday to face Limavady RFC in the Ulster Championship 2 League.
Injury, work commitments and unavailability led to a much changed side travelling. David Chivers was drafted in at hooker and the returning Ross Torney was added in the second row, Graeme Taylor played his first game in a month at No8 after a long holiday absence.
In the backs, the half back partnership of Alex Hendrickse and Mark Banford were absent due to injury and work commitments. This led to a reshuffle, with the experienced Stewart Paul taking over at scrum half and full back Paul Cox starting at fly half, winger Trevor Devlin moved to centre and David Armstrong was drafted into the side to play at full back.
So far this season, Ards have tasted little success on the road, with no wins, including two single point losses, it was time for the entire match day squad to step forward and show the kind of resolve that has produced such dominant quality rugby at home.
As it was, the pitch and the conditions would dictate the course of much of the game for both teams. Sat adjacent to a levee that contains the River Roe, Limavady’s narrow pitch is heavy most of the time. Given the recent weather and the falling rain, it had degenerated into a quagmire with patches that would swallow a carthorse and any prospect of free flowing rugby was gone.
The first half was something of a slow moving non-event as the conditions prevented each side from creating anything with pace or continuity. Injuries and stoppages meant the half lasted over 50 minutes. Punctuated by handling errors and a yellow card per side, Limavady managed to kick 2 penalties to 1 for Ards from Paul Cox for a 6-3 lead at halftime.
Thankfully a number of interesting interpretations by the match official kept the sideline crowd entertained. Spurred into action from words of motivation delivered by their coaches, both teams decided to make a contest of it in the second half.
It was clear that territory was essential to progress and that patience and close handling were needed. Building some momentum, Ards flanker Onisi Burekama made one the few line breaks on the day some 40 metres out. Seemingly clear, he hit a dead patch of ground that gave way and he fell in full flight. Play soon moved back into the Ards half and with a penalty conceded, Limavady took a 9-3 lead.
Prop Paddy Bond had to leave the field, and centre Trevor Devlin moved into the front row. From a scrum just inside their half, Limavady launched an attack and a missed tackle saw their speedy flanker released on a run to score under the posts, duly converted for a 16-3 lead to the home side.
With fresh legs from the bench in Danny Patton and John Dowey, Ards realised what was required of them and started to show some resolve. A more familiar playing style and work rate was now being produced, resulting in a great outside break from David Armstrong combining with winger Matthew Neill. Moving the ball back inside saw prop Tom Arthur Donnan take a great line and burst through 3 tacklers from 20 metres out to score under the posts. The conversion from Cox clawed the score back to 16-10 and with 30 minutes still on the clock, it was all to play for.
The Ards try seemed to energise the home team and the contest evened out again for a period with the worsening pitch still dictating the terms on which this game would play out.
Eventually, Limavady’s efforts combined with some Ards indiscipline sent them slowly into positive territory. Earning a seemingly easy penalty chance, the chance to go 2 scores ahead again was spurned and with 15 minutes left, Ards were still 6 points adrift, knowing a converted try would hand them victory.
Ards dug deep and slowly worked their way forward in a long period of exchanges from which they gradually wrestled the upper hand as the clock ticked down. Penalties earned went down the line and into the reliable hands of Pete Croan. Scrums were ground out as centre Devlin showed his mettle at hooker, typifying how the Ards team were determined to only go forward.
A series of scrums and rucks on the home side’s 5 metre line sapped their defensive will and it was left to scrum half Stewart Paul to pick and sidestep his way over the line with a minute to go. A solid conversion from Cox saw Ards take the lead for the first time at 16-17.
Receiving the restart, Burekama kicked the ball into touch and the final whistle sounded as Ards celebrated their first win on the road this season. Having been on the receiving end of 2 similar losses this term, one had to feel for the home team.
However, in a contest levelled by the surface and the conditions, the true difference between the 2 sides was Ards fitness. The conditioning work done by the coaching team, in particular Paddy McGrattan, gave them the tools required to match their determination to get the win.
Well done Ards, lets finish the year off with another win a Hamilton Park on Sat 30th December against UUC.