Ards miss the boat
By STEPHEN NUTT
It was like deja vu for Ards as they lose to Larne in similar circumstances to last season
Ards 1sts travelled to Larne RFC on Saturday for their latest Kukri Ulster Championship fixture. A first start was handed to Robert Hull in the forwards and Adam Coulter returned to the backline on the wing. Larne is the toughest venue to visit in this League and the current leading teams have all fallen on their visits so far this season.
The same fixture last year was not without its controversy, with an injury forcing a change of pitch and Ards losing to a penalty kick at the final whistle. The pitch at the Glynn is small and narrow with a strong slope and camber and was in its usual heavy condition underfoot.
Ards started the game uphill and into a strong swirling wind. From the start, their kicking game was slightly out of sync and Larne gained good possession up the blindside and opened the scoring with an unconverted try. Larne 5 v Ards 0
To compound matters, Ards failed to make any sense of the restart and immediately Larne had a second try on the board with less than 10 minutes elapsed. Larne 12 v Ards 0
Finally getting into gear, the visitors started to string some phases together and negate the disruptive home tactics. Winning a series of penalties, a lineout catch and drive move saw Ryan Thompson barge over, the conversion missed into a hard wind, but the gap narrowed. Larne 12 v Ards 5
Despite enjoying the majority of possession for the remainder of the half, the Ards game was very stop-start, with their kick return and chasing not up to standard. Eventually, a kickable penalty was conceded and the Larne lead extended. Larne 15 v Ards 5
As the second quarter was underway, Ards lost both Captain Andrew Foster and wing Matthew Warnock to hamstring injuries and subs Paddy Bond and Matthew Bell were pressed into action early. It wasn't long before momentum was regained and the hard working Ards pack brought Michael Taylor and David Armstrong into the line as good inroads were made.
Ards' scrum was now massively dominant and on the back of this, it was to be the forwards who ground out the yards and took a score on half time through Ross Torney to pin the home lead back. Larne 15 v Ards 10
Despite their territory and possession, Ards were adrift at half time, the home side's doggedness, kicking game and experience of the difficult surface and conditions coming to the fore.
In the second half and now playing down the hill, Ards were pressing for a deserved lead and were making good progress until Robert Hull suffered a dangerous looking neck injury at a ruck with 23 minutes still left to play.
With an ambulance en route, the game was moved to another pitch in circumstances reminiscent of the prior season's fixture. Barely reaching minimum size, this youth pitch was, as the last year, hardly suitable, but was at least flat.
With the wind also dying, all advantage was stripped from Ards, but they tried to carve out a victory. The pitch dimensions made for easy defending for both sides and no option but to go through the middle and with 10 minutes remaining, Larne struck back with an unconverted try. Larne 20 v Ards 10
Spurred into action, Ards ran hard at the home side, hoping for a line break and eventually earned a penalty close in. Opting for the scrum, No8 Graeme Taylor burst off the back of the scrum and beat a number of defenders to score, the conversion was good. Larne 20 v Ards 17
With time in hand, Ards pressed for the winning score, but it wasn't to be as they were left with only a losing bonus point for their troubles and an opportunity to move up a place in the table was missed.
This week sees Ards travel to Roughfort to take on Academy RFC as yet another chance beckons for Ards to make further progress. On a brighter note, young Robert's neck injury was not as bad as first feared and we hope to see him return to action before long.