Ards lose away to Randalstown
By STEPHEN NUTT
Ards run out of time at Randalstown!
Ards 1sts travelled to Randalstown RFC on Saturday for a Kukri Ulster Championship 2 League match. It was only two weeks since Ards made the same journey, losing to the hosts in the River Rock Towns Cup. In defeating league leaders Limavady RFC the previous week, there was a heavy injury count, with Trevor Devlin and Danny Patton suffering season ending injuries and Jamie Cardwell and Adam McKee absent with knocks.
With flanker Onisi Burekama also unavailable, wholesale changes were made and the coaching team - keen to bring more 1st team experience to the senior squad - brought in youngsters Matthew Warnock, Mark McLean, Lewis English and Robert Hull from the 2nd XV, with Ryan Thompson returning to action following an ankle injury. In all, 8 of the team were aged 18-22, reflecting the young age profile now at Ards as the hard work done in recent years in the Ards Youth system and links with Regent House start to bear fruit.
The pitch at Neilsbrook was heavy following the week's rain and it's small size and the conditions would favour the home side's narrow, hard and forward centric playing style. The first 5 minutes of the game were even, with Ards enjoying some useful possession, but with the home side playing down the hill in familiar conditions, they soon found themselves in the Ards 22 and went straight to their pick and go game.
Despite absorbing the pressure for some time, the home side opened the scoring with an unconverted try close in for a 5-0 lead.
The ensuing period was closer, albeit with territory in the home side's favour as their 1st phase gained the upper hand. Playing against a close forward game demands discipline in defence and Ards were slowing in loading their defensive pillars. Once too often this happened and on the half hour mark, the home side burst through to score from close in and with the try converted, taking a 12-0 lead.
Ards were clearly struggling to adjust their game for the second time in 2 weeks and a few minutes later, Randalstown took another converted try in a similar vein and with it a 19-0 lead that they kept until half time.
Starting the second half down the hill, Ards enjoyed good possession and phase building, but ended up taking the wrong option. Following the loss of possession and a couple of penalties, Randalstown worked their way up the pitch using their excellent line out and scored another converted try for a 26-0 lead, with 30minutes still to play.
Introducing their young subs, Ards' tempo was refreshed and finally started to take effect as the final quarter opened. Gaining good ground on the left into the home 22, another penalty was earned and the Randalstown centre was yellow carded for his second cynical piece of foul play.
Having seen their efforts to work moves with width frustrated by the restricted playing surface, the Ards backline now found some space and a superbly worked move between them saw winger McLean released to take a fine score out wide. The duiffuicult conversion for Paul Cox was just wide, but Ards were at last on the score board at 26-5.
Pressing their advantage and finally sparking into life, the forwards put good pace on their carrying game as full back Aaron May and wing Matthew Warnock also made great gains. Pressing well close to the Randalstown red zone, second row Gareth McBurney made a trademark run through the defence and tackled just over the line, found flanker English in support, for the 18 year old to score his maiden try for the 1st XV. The conversion just wide again, but the score was now at 26 - 10.
Ards were now in the ascendency and producing excellent rugby, their fitness proving key. Moving forward again and earning a penalty wide on the left on the home 22, fly half Paul Cox sent a perfect kick for winger McLean out wide on the right to gather well. Although taken down, centre Mark Banford was on hand to deftly finish a clever try. The touchline conversion from Cox was good and the score moved to 26 - 17.
With more than 5 minutes to go, Ards pressed for bonus points, but found the additional try wanting as the final score remained at 26 - 17.
Ards were left to rue their lack of concentration for the majority of the match at a venue where this indiscipline never goes unpunished.
For now, they look forward to a home game next Saturday against Lisburn RFC, hoping to repeat their victory at Blaris earlier in the season.
Saturday saw Gareth McBurney play his last match after an extended seasonal holiday home from his work in Ibiza as a Street Pastor. He returns there having worn the Ards shirt again with distinction and pride - see you again soon Lanky.
Photos courtesy of Peter May.