Match report: UUC 3 v Ards 29
By STEPHEN NUTT
Away day victory for Ards 1sts at UUC
UUC 3 v Ards 1sts 29
Ards 1sts travelled XV to UUC RFC in Coleraine for their penultimate Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship match of the season. The forwards saw Pete Croan introduced for the absent Ross Torney, Paddy Bond and Matt Kane rotated at prop and Ryan Thompson given a bench spot. In the backs, Matty Neill made a return from injury and with Alex Hendrickse rested at scrum half, there was a reshuffle in positions to accommodate.
UUC RFC have enjoyed a purple patch of late, registering some good wins, playing a fast open game with their young squad. Their main pitch at the university campus is similar to Hamilton Park in size and was in near perfect shape on the day. As the match started, the rain began to fall and continued heavily and incessantly throughout.
The early exchanges were even in open play, but Ards scrum dominance was immediately clear, with 2 early penalties good reward and useful for obtaining field position and momentum. However, it was the home side who opened the scoring after 10 minutes with a penalty and a 3-0 lead.
Shortly afterwards, Ards made good inroads through strong carries from the pack, with Graeme Taylor and Onisi Burekama to the fore. In the circumstances, it wasn’t long before a penalty chance was earned and the points slotted by Paul Cox to pin the score back to 3-3.
Ards patterns were starting to build and the ball moving around quickly, with plenty of space to work with. In addition, the lineout was back to its best, with Pete Croan and Josh McFarland jumping well in both attack and defence, winning and spoiling ball. The conditions were dictating a higher degree than usual of handling errors from both sides and the first quarter was becoming stop/start in nature, frustrating both teams’ efforts to build phases and play with width.
As the second quarter was underway, an excellent set through both forwards and backs saw Cox released from 40 metres. Despite the number of covering defenders, the full back’s line was just too good and he swerved through to register an excellent score. Although the conversion was unsuccessful, Ards took a 3-8 lead.
Spurred on, Ards continued to work hard with the ball, adapting to suit the conditions. At the same time, UUC’s efforts were strong and their phases and patterns well executed and it took a good measure of defensive grit from the visitors to keep them at bay.
Ards, though, were enjoying a dominant period. Good carrying from Taylor, Kane and hooker Tom-Arthur Donnan was putting Ards behind UUC’s defence and McFarland was unlucky not to finish a great move out wide.
Soon after, another well built set of phases was seen, with centres Trevor Devlin and David Armstrong making good progress with the service from fly half Scott Young. Making it into the UUC red zone, Young sold a great dummy and burst through to draw the defence and release Devlin on a great tracking line inside to score under the posts as the half was closing off. The conversion from Cox good and Ards lead was extended to 3-15.
Ards were encouraged by their first half performance and expected an initial backlash from UUC, which arrived. The home team had a strong opening 10 minutes and earned a number of penalties, gaining good field position. However, Ards had introduced Paddy Bond and Ryan Thompson from the bench, adding tempo and defensive strength to their efforts. A number of UUC charges were repelled as they threw their fast pack at the line, similar to the first quarter.
Ards collective defensive efforts, with highlights from Thompson on the ground and Croan & McFarland in the air, kept them at bay and they then in turn pressed in attack. With hard carries through the forwards and wide running by the backs, Ards soon put themselves back in UUC territory and the UUC red zone.
Recycling the ball quicker than the home team could reload defensively, a good overlap saw No8 Taylor burst past the last defenders and take a fine score. The conversion again good from Cox and the lead pushed out to 3-22.
UUC dug deep and again forced their way back into the game, executing phases well and playing good patterns, they were hard to cover and contain and threatened to break clear several times.
Ards’ defence remained resolute though, both close-in against hard carriers and out wide, marshalling their speedy backline and reloading with vigour. As before, Ards held fast and waited to regain possession and it took until the final quarter for territory to swing in their favour. Working again through their phases, with Young calling the patterns well, some superb rugby was put together.
With 10 minutes to go, a move created a 3 on 3 out wide and with Burekama in possession, the defence was expecting another hard run at their line. However, the flanker had different thoughts and put a deft chip through between their centres for Armstrong to chase and touch down out wide. The touchline conversion from Cox was well taken and the lead extended to 3-29.
With the clock counting down, UUC’s pride was somewhat at stake and they pushed hard to gain advantage in the closing minutes. Perhaps here lies the true tale of Ards efforts on the day, as they showed how victory is earned firstly in defence.
For over 25 phases, UUC both battered and tried to out flank the Ards line, but to no avail. With Thompson again leading the way in defensive work rate, all 15 Ardsmen produced a defensive set that pleased the coaching team as much as the quality of their attacking play. Forcing an error and with the clock run down, the final whistle brought an excellent away win 3-29 to Ards.
Travelling back to Hamilton Park, they welcomed home their 3rd XV teammates with the Butler Shield in what was a fine day for all at Ards RFC. Next week sees the final fixture of the season at home to PSNI RFC, where a bonus point win would see Ards 1sts secure 3rd place in the table.