Ards back to winning ways!
Convincing win for Ards 1sts v Omagh in Conference League
Ards 1sts 39 v Omagh 2nds 7
After two hard opening fixtures on the road, Ards 1st XV welcomed Omagh 2nds to Hamilton Park for their first home match of the season in the Kukri Championship 2 Conference League.
This season has seen much change in the Ards senior squad and a great number of new and returning players across all three squads. For the 1sts, a number of additions such as the returning Aaron May and Taylor Nutt along with Jamie Cardwell in the backs and 18 year old Lewis English in the forwards have gone a long way to compensating for the retirement of coach Scott Young from playing duties as well as the enforced early season absence of the experienced Stewart Paul and Mark Banford.
Overall, the depth of the squad is challenging the coaching team in selection and numbers at training have been buoyant, allowing all players to engage in meaningful sessions.
Given this depth, the coaching team selected a much changed team, with David Armstrong, Banford and Mark McLean all making their season bows in the backline, rotating Nutt, Adam Coulter and Adam Faloon for a rest week . In the forwards, a senior debut was handed to English and the returning Tom Arthur Donnan was added, with Danny Patton and John Dowey rotating out for the week.
The Omagh team were very familiar from the corresponding fixture last season, with a robust and experienced pack, good centres and an excellent back three.
The match kicked off with Ards playing towards Strangford Lough and the home team enjoyed almost continuous possession, aided by a fair wind in their favour. Ards dominated territory, but found the visitors’ defence in good form and their own continuity interrupted by a couple of handling errors.
Once into full flow after 10 minutes, the home side started to move the ball wide with more confidence and with 15 minutes gone, found flanker Josh McFarland out wide on a last man overlap to open the score, the difficult conversion was wide and a 5-0 lead taken.
The home side had clear scrum dominance and their line out was functioning well through McFarland and Onisi Burekama. Spurred on by this, Ards stepped up a gear and working hard through the forwards and with good lateral movement, eventually Captain Andrew Foster burst through on 25 minutes on the blindside and just short, popped the ball to the supporting Alex Hendrickse to dot down, the touchline conversion from winger Paul Cox was good and the lead extended to 12-0.
From the restart, good ground was gained and a penalty opportunity earned from 25 metres in front of the posts. Opting for the points, Cox goaled the penalty and took the lead out to 18-0.
Ards’ possession continued unabated and although still facing a strong defensive effort from Omagh, they worked the left touchline well again. Hendrickse and winger Mark McLean made good movements out on the wing and from the breakdown, full back May was released and showed superb acceleration to quickly outpace the cover from 40 metres and take an excellent score. Cox’s conversion was good and Ards lead to half time was 25-0.
The key message at half time was how many points had been left behind already and to step up in reducing the error count and press on in their performance. Expectedly, a stung Omagh side started the half with aggression and purpose and it was Ards’ turn to face an onslaught as Omagh used their wind advantage and strong line out to good effect.
The home side started to use their bench, introducing Paul Hamilton and English with their strong defensive work to help stem the tide. As the third quarter was closing, Omagh won a penalty and kicked to touch. Trusting their trademark driving lineout, they eventually took a converted score to reduce the lead to 25-7.
Pressing again from line out opportunities, the visitors had a period of play in the Ards red zone as the final quarter beckoned, but the home defence remained solid as the entire pack showed their mettle.
With the visitors’ long kicking game to the fore, the onus was on Ards to create from deep and turning defensive breakdowns into turnovers was becoming the result and from a fast defensive press in midfield, centre Trevor Devlin forced an offload error from his Omagh counterpart. The ball spilling loose, Devlin hacked through and gave chase from his own 22, controlling it well with his feet twice more as the Omagh cover chased hard. Not to be outdone, Devlin outpaced them all and gathered on the line to take a hard won score, the conversion was from Cox for a 32-5 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Bringing creativity into their game, Hendrickse, May and McLean tried different moves from deep and were unlucky twice before May released McLean cleverly on their own 22 metre line. McLean’s acceleration took him clear, but he was aware enough to spot chasing cover as he approached the try line, stepping inside the cover twice to take a fine score on the 80 minute mark. Cox’s conversion was good for a 39-7 lead as the final whistle sounded.
A thoroughly entertaining performance for the decent crowd as the 1sts got their season on track. Our thanks to the referee and to a great Omagh opposition that never gave up throughout.
Ards RFC 1sts welcome Malone RFC this Friday 21st September to Hamilton Park for a 7.30 KO as they hope to continue their home form.