Match report: Academy 23 v Ards 17
Points mean wins not tries!
Ards RFC 1st XV took the journey to Mallusk on Saturday for their return fixture with Academy RFC in the Kukri Championship League.
Ards showed one change from the previous week’s win, with Adam Faloon replacing the unwell Adam Coulter on the wing.
Ards won the home fixture comfortably back in early November, taking advantage of the wide Hamilton Park pitch to run in 9 tries.
After waiting for someone to turn up late and open the BRA school changing rooms, the Ards team took the long walk past the neatly clipped pitches and to the far end of the grounds to a pitch that resembled a basketball court in size with a cute set of posts at each end. Academy are unbeaten at home this season and it was not hard to see why.
Both teams started well, with good tempo and aggression apparent and there was little headway in the first quarter with play centralised and narrowed by both the surface and the tactics employed.
As the first quarter was closing, Ards started to impose themselves and get what width was possible in their play. In what was to become a common theme throughout the game, Ards were penalised in a central position about 30 metres out and Academy opened the scoring with an easy kick for a 3-0 lead.
Moving steadily forward, Ards pounded the Academy line, making good ground and an overlap was created out wide, Mark Banford finished well to open the scoring for the visitors, 3-5 to Ards.
However, from the restart, an offside penalty was again conceded by Ards in a central position. The Academy kicker took the easy points to regain the lead at 6-5.
A few minutes later, again a penalty came in a similar position and the kick again successful for Academy as they stretched their lead out to 9-5.
From the kick off, Ards tried to open the game up and create movement. With the home defence closely packed, the going was tough and a clever chip over the top from Scott Young saw Mark Banford race through to touch down under the posts. The conversion from Paul Cox was good and the lead regained at 9-12.
Taking the restart, Ards put a good series of phases together, only for the referee’s whistle to again penalise them in a similar position and another easy 3 points for Academy to peg the score back to 12-12.
At this stage, the Ards team’s frustrations were becoming apparent. Despite both teams giving equal commitment and technique at the breakdown, the decision count was stacking up against the visitors and their every effort was being heavily scrutinised.
As the clock was running down for the first half, a series of penalties put the home team behind the Ards defence once too often and their fly half ran through for an unconverted score out wide and a 17-12 lead as the whistle sounded for the break.
Glad of the respite, Ards regrouped and knew what they had to do to get back in front and close the game off. The third quarter played out much the same as the first with Ards trying to outstrip or bypass the tightly packed home defence without result with space at a premium.
The official’s whistle was again in frequent use, despite the equality of general play and another central penalty about 30 metres out was awarded to Academy and the lead extended to 20-12.
Ards again tried to put some width on their game, the forwards exhausting themselves in their efforts and the backline reshuffled to try and gain some tactical advantage.
Eventually, an overlap came Ards’ way as the third quarter was closing and prop Matthew Kane ran through the Academy backline well to take an unconverted score and reduce the deficit to 20-17.
With their bench emptied and the Academy props retired injured, the game moved to uncontested scrums and a further similar penalty came the way of the home team and the lead extended to 23-17.
Ards decided to change tactics and play pick and go moves through the middle and after making good progress and seeming to be close to grabbing an unlikely fourth try, a simple error at the base of a close in ruck saw the ball turned over to Academy, the last vestiges of momentum gone and with them, the game.
There will be plenty of lessons learned on the road again here as Ards saw themselves frustrated into a third bonus point loss away from home and dropping two league positions, particularly when outscoring the winners by three tries to one. This was the first visit for these Ards players to this venue that has, like many other venues in this league, its idiosyncrasies. The opportunity to reverse the result will come, but for now, this Ards team are focused on their Towns Cup Quarter Final at Portadown next week