Match report: Ards 1sts v Randalstown
Ards take it to the Town!
Ards RFC 1st XV welcomed Randalstown RFC on Saturday for the return fixture in the Ulster Championship League 2. With the recent continued bad weather, Hamilton Park was unplayable and the club were extremely grateful to Regent House Grammar School for the use of their main pitch for the occasion. With the majority of the Ards 1st XV squad & management in attendance along with other Ards Rugby club members at the school’s Big Breakfast event prior to the Medallion squad’s quarter final Plate match against Down High, it thankfully made for easier logistics on the day.
The Ards pack saw one change, with Tom Arthur Donnan starting at hooker and David Chivers taking a bench spot. In the backs, the return of Paul Cox and Mark Banford saw another reshuffle of positions.
The fixture at Randalstown earlier in the season was when Ards were struggling to find away form and that fairly abject performance was targeted by the coaches and players as one to show where their level of improvement was at. Randalstown currently lie a strong 2nd in the League and have the play-off spot within their grasp.
Ards received the kick off and started with purpose. The entire pack were hungry for ball from the off and were running their patterns with tempo and aggression, moving it to the backline and progressing against a determined Randalstown defence.
Ards kept total possession for the first seven minutes until the visitors defensive line was narrowed and the ball was moved slickly to winger Cox to touch down in the corner. 5-0 to Ards.
Randalstown were clearly stung by what they faced and started to string some attacking phases together. An excellent tackle by flanker Onisi Burekama was strangely adjudged to be illegal and the visitors kicked for an excellent lineout position. A driving maul from them was held up over the line and after further good work from Randalstown was repelled by the Ards defensive line, a kickable penalty was well taken and the Ards lead reduced to 5-3.
Having suffered at the tune of the referee's whistle, Ards took to their task again with purpose. Hard carrying again across the forward pack gave opportunity to Banford, Scott Young and Trevor Devlin in the midfield to get half breaks and get behind the visitors defence.
Within a few minutes, the waves of black shirts were again too much and Devlin took a ball to smash past a number of defenders and touch down. The conversion from Cox was good and the lead increased to 12-3 as the first quarter closed.
The second quarter became more of a contest and play centralised more. The visitors worked well through their excellent hooker and No8 to get on the front foot, but the Ards defence was in no mood for line breaks.
The Ards scrum was now in strong ascendency, Randalstown back-pedalling and losing momentum at the set piece. It was left to their excellent fly half to try a couple of kicks over the top and high balls to mix up their efforts, but the Ards back three coped with room to spare. In the end, another kickable penalty came their way on the half hour mark and the score reduced to 12-6.
Using their scrum dominance and with the lineout working well, Ards took control of the final minutes of the half and pressed for a score. A bullocking run from the visitors' 10 metre line by Gareth McBurney took him to within a few metres of a score, but Ards failed to capitalise as a knock on followed and the ball was kicked into touch by Randalstown from their scrum.
Half time 12-6 to Ards.
Ards started the second period much like the first, with hard carrying and well executed phase building. Not one forward shirked his responsibilities in attack as they worked to build opportunities for the backline, who made strong gains and constantly tested the determined Randalstown defence. After a number of phase sets were repelled in the visitors' red zone, a kickable penalty was awarded to Ards and Cox slotted the chance well for a 15-6 lead to Ards.
Again, play became more centralised as each team tested each other with determination and a penalty chance was earned by Randalstown and well taken to pin the score back to 15-9.
Pressing forward, Ards tempo and carrying continued unabated as the visitors defence was starting to soften and yardage more easily made. With the visitors becoming increasingly penalised, the option to kick was taken by Cox to stretch the lead out again to 18-9 as the final quarter was underway.
Randalstown's response was still there and they moved the ball wide well, their fly half distributing superbly as they looked to test Ards out wide. However, the home side's defence is as frugal in the wide channels as it is in the middle and the visitors found themselves cutting back inside and swallowed up by a flurry of black shirts.
With less than 10 minutes to go, another strong Ards scrum on halfway saw a big blind side well exploited by No 8 Graeme Taylor and scrum half Stewart Paul to draw the defence and release the fleet footed Adam Coulter, who outran a number of desperate covering defenders with ease to score in the corner. The tough conversion was good from Cox and the lead extended to 25-9.
Pressing for a bonus point try, Ards went on the attack, but found the visitors defence rallied enough in the dying minutes to keep them out.
An excellent win for Ards, with much for the coaching team and the players to be pleased about in defeating the second placed team and outscoring them by three tries to nil. This victory moves Ards up to 4th in the table and narrows the points gap for further progression. Next week sees the team travel to Mallusk to play Academy RFC in a League encounter.