Ards 1sts 7 v Grosvenor 27
Ards RFC 1st XV welcomed the runaway and unbeaten league leaders Grosvenor RFC to Hamilton Park on Saturday for the return fixture in the Kukri Ulster Championship League.
The home team had an unchanged pack and the backline saw the return of Scott Young from injury in place of the holidaying David Armstrong.
The last time these two teams met was in early December, Ards were unlucky to lose by a single point in the closest contest presented to Grosvenor all season.
The weather has laid waste to many pitches and fixtures in the meantime and the fine surface at Malone that allowed both teams to produce such a great performance two months prior was replaced by the soft Hamilton Park pitch that has been carefully managed of late to keep it playable.
Kicking off with the benefit of a very strong wind, Ards tore into Grosvenor from the start and found their response in equal measure as the standards were set high by both teams in this much anticipated fixture.
Although there was little gain for either side, it wasn’t for the lack of trying, as each defence showed both organisation and ferocious commitment, with Danny Patton, Onisi Burekama and Tom Arthur Donnan to the fore for the home side.
However, Ards soon found themselves at the mercy of the ref’s whistle as persistent high tackles were penalised and good work wasted.
Despite the stop start nature, as penalties were becoming commonplace against both teams and the conditions produced some handling errors, both teams pressed themselves to produce quality attacking patterns and avoid the temptation of playing a narrow game that better suited the conditions.
The second row pairing of Gareth McBurney and Ross Torney along with No8 Graeme Taylor were carrying well and centres Trevor Devlin and Scott Young constantly tested the Grosvenor midfield.
The visitors back row, half backs and centres pressed in equal measure. In doing so, perhaps Ards did forgo easy territorial advantage with the heavy wind, but it allowed them to produce the opening score.
An excellent break by Scott Young on the visitors’ 10 metre line saw him off load to Trevor Devlin, who beat two defenders to offload back to Young to go in under the posts for a fine score. The conversion by Paul Cox saw a 7-0 lead with 25 minutes played.
Grosvenor then kicked into life and started to make good territorial gains, aided by further penalties as Ards’ previous indiscipline saw the referee exercising little discretion in his interpretation.
The home defence seemed to be coping well with the onslaught and reloading with ease as the half time whistle approached, until the Grosvenor fly half sold a great dummy 10 metres out and ghosted through for their deserved opening score. Duly converted, the half closed shortly after at 7-7.
As the second half started, Ards knew the challenge that lay in front of them and began well. However, before long, a yellow card was shown to Captain Andrew Foster as the referee’s patience was tested once too often and almost as soon as he had returned to play, another yellow card was handed to No8 Taylor.
This 20 minute period of being reduced to 14 men in a game of fine margins was to have effect as the visitors gained good ground, scoring a converted try under the posts through their centre and a penalty kick to take a 7-17 lead.
Returned to full strength, Ards pressed strongly and worked a good move upfield to within striking distance, only to see the referee keen to identify an infringement and halt their progress.
Whilst the Ards scrum was strong and winning turnovers, the line out advantage swung clearly to Grosvenor and with the wind advantage, they were happy to take touch finding kicks as the opportunity arose.
Using their territory to good effect, Grosvenor earned a kickable penalty as the final quarter opened and stretched their lead to 7-20.
Both teams continued to attack and defend with vigour and no let up in tempo. Ards earned a couple of outside breaks as did the visitors, but the conditions were a great leveller as both teams’ back threes could gain little traction in the soft conditions and closed each other down well in defence.
With a handful of minutes left, Grosvenor set a good attacking platform and their fly half rounded off an excellent performance with the final try, duly converted for a scoreline of 7-27.
Whilst Ards left nothing on the pitch in terms of commitment and effort, there will be some lessons learned and experience gained as they continue to improve themselves.
There are striking comparisons between where Ards are now and where Grosvenor were at the same point last season. The challenge is to develop and improve to that next level right through the remainder of the season – there is certainly no lack of ability or desire for that to happen.
Our thanks to Grosvenor RFC and their supporters, who contributed to an excellent contest on the pitch and a lively atmosphere afterwards in the clubhouse. This Saturday sees the visit of Ballymoney RFC to Hamilton Park in the River Rock Towns Cup.