Ards 1sts register first home win of the season
By STEPHEN NUTT
Ards' improvement continues with a dominant performance against Larne.
Ards 1sts welcomed Larne RFC on Saturday for their latest fixture in Kukri Ulster Championship League 2. Conditions were much improved from their last fixture 2 weeks prior, which was played in atrocious weather at Lurgan, although there was a strong swirling wind to contend with.
Ards were without Onisi Burekama in the forwards, who was replaced at flanker by the returning Paddy Bond. The backline saw something of a reshuffle too, with Mark Banford’s absence covered by the returning Trevor Devlin and Adam Faloon taking a spot on the bench alongside Adam McKee.
Larne started the brighter of the two teams, using short carries from their large pack and working the short side in their usual style. The home defence was robust, limiting the visitors’ advances to small gains. A turnover was won before long and Ards were quick to build a series of incisive phases, releasing Bond on a mazy run down the touchline. Cutting back inside to draw the last two defenders, he released an audacious pass from the back of his hand to find the tracking Alex Hendrickse, who finished well in the corner, the difficult conversion into the wind was narrowly missed. Ards 5 v Larne 0
Their tails up, the home side attacked from the restart. Breaking up the same touchline again through good phases, the ball was moved wide to the overlap, only for the final pass to go astray.
Play then evened out again for a period as Larne’s hard carrying built momentum. Within this, a number of early scrums and lineouts were seen and Ards dominance, particularly in the scrum was immediately evident, as was their commitment at the breakdown.
No8 Graeme Taylor was carrying well and gaining good line breaks and centres Jamie Cardwell and David Armstrong were working well off Paul Cox at fly half.
Ards were keen to move the ball wide where possible, stretching the Larne defence. Ryan Thompson, Danny Patton and Tom-Arthur Donnan in the pack worked the breakdown relentlessly, producing some excellent clear outs and quick ball. As the second quarter began, a central penalty opportunity was earned through these collective efforts, duly goaled by Cox. Ards 8 v Larne 0
By this stage, Larne knew they had to produce some work of their own to stay in the game. Seeing the benefit of the conditions, their clever scrum half guided them towards the far corner via the short side through intelligent kicking. On the half hour mark, a kickable penalty was earned by this and duly converted. Ards 8 v Larne 3
As the half was closing, Ards had regained the ascendency. The pack shared their carrying duties evenly, playing with width and releasing the backline more and more. Through another good series of phases, the ball was moved swiftly from the right touchline and moved through many hands to find wing Mark McLean on the far side, who flew in to take a fine score, the difficult conversion was just wide again.
Half time: Ards 13 v Larne 3
Larne restarted with gusto as before and the early exchanges of the half were physical and unforgiving from both sides. Ards’ scrum dominance continued and their line out defence grew in success with both Patton and McKee getting great steals. The home centre pairing of Cardwell and Armstrong were starting to flow, bringing in McLean and Devlin well and using the wide Hamilton Park surface to good effect.
Before long, these expansive tactics worked and saw full back Aaron May into the line as he exchanged passes with wing Devlin in close support before hitting top gear from 30 metres and round the Larne defence for a great try, the conversion from Cox was good. Ards 20 v Larne 3
Building well again from the restart, the home team kept a strong tempo and constant lateral movement, moving the ball quickly and seeking line breaks. Soon after, Taylor, Donnan and McKee cut loose on the near touchline, passing and supporting accurately. A breakdown in the Larne red zone was quickly moved on and found prop Matt Kane at full tilt to crash through for the bonus point try with the second half less than ten minutes old, the difficult conversion from Cox was again narrowly wide. Ards 25 v Larne 3
In the same manner as the first half, the visitors found a consistent period of possession, with their Ulster Juniors scrum half Garrett guiding them with intelligence and with the wind direction to the top corner and the home red zone.
A sustained penalty count at the end of the third quarter saw Ross Torney take a yellow card for the team, but the depleted Ards team held firm in defence, repulsing a determined Larne offensive for some time.
Eventually, Ards were able to work into the lee of the wind and clear their lines. Taking some possession of their own, overlaps were earned with Cox, May and Devlin constantly seeking opportunities for others to exploit with their footwork and pace. As the final quarter opened, yet another midfield move saw wing Faloon released through a clear gap from half way and turn on the afterburners to cruise in comfortably, the conversion was slotted by Cox. Ards 32 v Larne 3
Ards’ fitness advantage was becoming increasingly clear as the game progressed. Dogged defence from Larne and clearing kicks did keep Ards in check for the rest of the final period, as did Ards’ own use of overlaps, but the home side remained clearly in control.
As the final whistle approached, another strong set of phases and quick ball from the ruck allowed a break down the left, with Faloon passing to Armstrong for a superb finish in the corner, the conversion was missed. Ards 37 v Larne 3
That score was to remain as the match closed off and a well-earned victory applauded from the sidelines. All six tries were of a high standard and testament to the further improvement being seen throughout this squad.
Our thanks to a valiant Larne side and the referee. Next week sees the visit of the high flying Academy RFC side to Hamilton Park. Last year’s defeat by a score of 57-10 to a rampant Ards team will no doubt still be fresh in their minds and their response likely appropriate in measure. A match to look forward to as Ards are just hitting a rich vein of form.