Ards do double over Limavady
Winning ways continue for Ards with a hard fought win over Limavady
Ards 1st XV welcomed Limavady 1st XV to Hamilton park on Saturday for the return fixture in the Kukri Ulster Championship League. With the season half way through, this was the first of the return legs, with Ards having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the final minutes of the match in Limavady on 16th December.
The Ards team was largely unchanged from last week's win, with Mark Banford returning to fly half and Pete Croan returning from an injury lay off to take a place on the subs bench.
The weather had been poor all week and the usually pristine Hamilton Park surface was very soft but playable.
These have been recent weeks of loss at Hamilton Park; the English and Groves families have lost loved ones as has the recovering Bale Tabaiwalu, who's father sadly passed away in Fiji.
This week saw the further sad news that 1st team stalwart Onisi Burekama had lost his father suddenly back home in Fiji. Unable to return home in time, Onisi wanted to spend the day at Ards with his partner Jolen and their family and his band of brothers at Ards RFC. So in his honour and also Bale's and others in the wider Ards family, a minutes silence was observed before kick off.
Limavady are a team who's league position belies their quality. A very young side, they have suffered a good number of close losses that do not reflect where they should be in the standings.
Unlike the last time they met, Ards started the game well and were soon into their stride. The Ards scrum was massively dominant and the Ards defence settled in early, repelling the visitor's efforts and sending them backwards.
However, it soon was very apparent that it was neither side that would dictate the flow of play, but the fast deteriorating pitch, rain and high wind, the game stagnated into a slow moving affair with frequent handling errors.
It was soon clear that the Limavady coaching team had done a fine job of analysing where they lost the home fixture to Ards and their running lines and line out organisation showed improvements that tested Ards continuously.
However, Ards more powerful pack, who worked tirelessly all day, produced the opening score. Winning scrum penalties with ease, Ards were parked in the Limavady 22 and after a number of phases and attempts to cross the line, 2nd Row Gareth McBurney bruised and barged his way over out wide at the end of the first quarter. The difficult conversion was well taken by Paul Cox for 7-0 lead.
Ards were then happy to rely on their strength and defensive organisation to contain the Limavady attack and like a battleship in a sea of mud, they took every hit and even pressed the attackers backwards.
The effort of every man on the pitch was admirable with every Ards forward worthy of mention more than once.
Ards did enjoy the odd run, but the dampened pace of Adam Coulter and the flawless Matthew Neill could not escape their pursuers, nor the power running of Trevor Devlin.
Unfortunately, such tactics are a percentage game and were unable to wrestle possession back, the Limavady second row ran a good angle and brushed through a couple of tackles to score under the posts. The conversion was good and the score tied at 7-7 for half time.
As the match restarted, conditions underfoot were worsening and opportunities to score would prove to be rare. Both packs remained parked in the middle third of the pitch and did battle, with Ards wrestling themselves upfield only to be pushed back by incisive running from the lively Limavady forwards.
Eventually, a penalty chance came the way of Ards as the 3rd quarter was closing and Cox slotted the kick for a 10-7 lead to Ards.
Now it was the visitors' chance to enjoy some possession and they were happy to move the ball wide, where they were well marshalled by David Armstrong and the back 3 of Neill, Coulter and Cox.
A couple of times they threatened an overlap, but on each occasion Devlin arrived like a runaway train to cut down the last man.
Limavady then found a gap with a good line break, this time through their excellent No8, who avoided a number of tacklers to score close to the posts with 12 minutes to go. The easy conversion came back off the posts, leaving Limavady with a 10-12 lead.
Now knowing that a penalty would be suffice and stung by their complacency in surrendering the lead, the Ards' pack thundered forward, determined not to be outdone.
Ards no8 Graeme Taylor leading from the front, the pack forced their way into the opposition 22 and battered their line with short carries as the backline loaded, ready to strike.
Held up over the line twice and awarded scrum penalties close in, the onslaught was too much for Limavady and from another driving scrum, No8 Taylor picked and took a number of defenders over the line with him to score. A hard enough conversion was again slotted by Cox and a 17-12 lead to Ards with 4 minutes left.
Ards then slowed play and ran the clock down. The visitors tried desperately to create something, but to no avail as a final kick through was run into touch.
In the end, the conditions levelled the contest, but Ards' fitness and determination to produce a win befitting the day were the difference.
Our thanks to Limavady and their superb travelling support. Another great day this season at Hamilton Park and next week sees a visit to Newforge and another league encounter against PSNI RFC