Ards defeat league leaders!
By STEPHEN NUTT
Ards avenge two early season defeats by Limavady with a hard earned 9 - 5 victory over Limavady.
Ards 1st XV welcomed League leaders Limavady RFC to Hamilton Park on Saturday for the latest round of the Kukri Ulster Championship Division 2. Ards had already visited Limavady twice this season in both the League and the Junior Cup and suffered heavy defeats. In turn Limavady have been blazing a trail in the division so far this season with the addition of a new coach and a hatful of players brought in from senior clubs at the start of the term. Ards saw the return of Onisi Burekama to the pack and a couple of positional changes.
Needless to say, the visitors fancied their chances highly, particularly after Ards' lacklustre display the week before at Randalstown. The week at training for the senior squad brought the opportunity to examine what they wanted to achieve this season and where their improvements were needed and this was delivered to them frankly by the coaching team. On the day, all 17 players delivered their response, handed a defeat to the Roesiders and put their season firmly back on track.
Ards kicked off towards Strangford Lough with a strong wind advantage and the exchanges were intense from the beginning. Their scrum showed massive dominance, maybe too much so, as the Ards front row of Andrew Foster, Paddy Bond and Tom-Arthur Donnan lifted their opposite numbers clean in the air and dumped them backwards, receiving a penalty for their troubles. Containing their drive in future set pieces saw their scrum become a major weapon throughout and win ball against the head.
This set piece performance raised the entire team and their defensive efforts and patterns were committed and well executed, starving Limavady of consistent ball and forcing them into uncharacteristic handling errors under pressure. With 10 minutes elapsed, a penalty was earned 55 metres out and fly half Paul Cox called for the tee, his experience of the conditions telling. As it was, his kick had plenty to spare as Ards took the lead at 3-0.
Play became very much centred in the middle third of the pitch. Although Ards employed a kicking game to play for territory, the superb Limavady back 3 never failed to gain big yardage in getting the ball back into a playable position. Ards set piece advantage where Gareth McBurney starred in the line out and defensive grit were soon becoming the core of their work and only 5 minutes passed before another penalty was awarded inside their half. Again, Cox called for the tee and again, he sent the ball through the uprights with interest as the home side increased their lead to 6-0.
Ards were now enjoying a purple patch of form and the forwards' phase building was executed well, with strong carries from Ross Torney, Danny Patton and Graeme Taylor as Burekama and Gareth McBurney showed excellent link play and provided the backline with ball to move. As the first quarter was closing, another penalty was earned by Ards, close to their own 10 metre line and Cox again took the points well and Ards moved their lead out to 9-0.
Lifted by their progress, Ards moved the ball well through the backline, opting to kick when the time was right and making substantial and exciting gains. Ards' influential centre Trevor Devlin suffered a serious knee injury and was replaced, with flanker Burekama moving to the wing and No8 Graeme Taylor moving to centre. At this point, the visitors upped their game and showed their quality had not gone away. Working the ball hard and putting good width on their game, the Ards defence came under increasing pressure and a growing penalty count, with second row Torney taking a team yellow card for a high tackle as the half hour mark approached. Shortly after, the visitors moved the ball out wide and ran a great switch move to score in the corner. The difficult conversion was unsuccessful and the Ards lead pinned back to 9-5, where it would remain until the interval.
Taking time to draw breath at the break, the home side looked to press on and play the conditions, expecting an onslaught from Limavady with the hefty wind advantage now in their favour. This expectation was fulfilled as the visitors came at Ards from the off, producing a strong performance for much of the second half and enjoying the vast majority of territory. Constantly switching the direction of play between forwards and backs through their excellent half backs, the home defence were tasked to produce a defensive organisation and commitment out of the top drawer and that they did. Time and again, Limavady built multiple phase moves, probing the Ards line with both heavy forward carries and incisive backline moves, but home side's defence was uncompromising, forcing errors and winning turnover penalties. Ards strong scrum advantage gave a backbone to recovering field position and forcing away the visitors' efforts.
The first 30 minutes of the half was mostly to the visitors' advantage as Ards struggled to build moves and gain territory, just as was the opposite in the first period. Given the opportunity, fly half Cox still released the backline and with the visitors' efforts tiring, good runs were made by Burekama and Torney and relieving field position into the Limavady 22 gained. Ards were gaining the upper hand and territory was starting to equalise. Winning a scrum in the Limavady 22 with 2 minutes remaining, hopes were rising for the home team,but a penalty reverse and a further 2 penalty offences saw the visitors into the Ards 22 again. Limavady then battered the Ards line continuously, for a further 7 full minutes with a series of long phase counts across 3 penalties. Going wide allowed the Ards defence to press well and almost steal the ball at the breakdown. However, at the following breakdown, wing Mark Banford successfully jackalled the Limavady player and won a penalty. Taking a tap before kicking to touch, the final whistle sounded as Ards secured a hard won and well deserved victory.
Our thanks to the opposition for a fine game, the referee and large crowd. Next Saturday sees Ards seeking to take this form on the road to Randalstown in the League and make amends for their below par performance last week. Most of all, the entire playing and management squad wish Trevor Devlin a speedy full recovery from the knee injury he sustained.