Match report: Ards 1sts v Academy
By STEPHEN NUTT
Ards have it rough at 'Roughfort' against Academy
Ards 1sts travelled to Roughfort on Saturday to play Academy in the latest round of the Kukri Ulster Championship League 2.
With a number of injuries and player rotations, the opportunity was taken to give debuts to Jonny McCartney & Matthew Walker. The team also saw the return of Paul Hamilton after a long absence and Matthew Bell elevated from the bench for his first start this term. The backline saw a reshuffle, with full back Aaron May starting at outside centre and wing Michael Taylor taking the inside berth. Academy RFC are taking control of this league and are many people’s favourites to win it, led by a hugely physical pack augmented by some excellent pre-season signings.
Playing with a strong wind advantage for the first half, Ards started the better of the two sides. Controlling much of the first 10 minutes with excellent ball retention, a good penalty chance was earned and duly converted by fly half Paul Cox for a 0-3 lead.
Academy came into the game more as the first quarter passed and the forward exchanges were brutal, setting a pattern for the remainder of the match as all 8 of the Ards pack gave no quarter to stay in the contest. The home side’s scrum is a match for any in the Qualifying Leagues as Ards struggled for parity and found themselves under pressure.
At the same time, both sets of backs tried to use the ball at every opportunity, with Matthew Walker and Adam Coulter making great yardage as Aaron May showed his trademark footwork and pace to good effect at centre. As it was, the home side struck with a try on the half hour mark, converting for a 7-3 lead.
The physicality of the game continued unabated, with early substitutions for Bell from a clear stamping. Undeterred, the Ards pack took on their opposition with Hamilton, Ross Torney and Onisi Burekama to the fore, fighting for small gains to provide their backline with ball. Continued good phase building and discipline saw another penalty chance and Cox delivered again to pin the home side back to 7-6.
Sticking to the game plan and good concentration saw the home discipline waver and as the half was closing, another penalty chance came to pass for Cox to create a 7-9 lead for Ards.
The remaining minutes of the half saw play equalise and the score remain unchanged.
With Ards now down to 15 fit players, Academy emerged from the half time huddle clearly stung and used the wind advantage to put Ards under pressure. We have seen in the past the defensive resolve this Ards squad has and they were pressed into action early.
As the third quarter was closing, Academy took two tries in quick succession, with one converted, as the relentless toll brought its rewards for them and a 19-9 lead.
The game then equalised again, with Ards having fair periods of possession and their fitness in the pack seeing the scrums even out. Some opportunities were seen, but the home side slowly wrested control back. As the half hour mark passed, they took another brace of converted tries, though controversially so as their illegal use of the boot at the ruck area continued without sanction from the official. In fact, it took until the hour mark for the Academy prop to be yellow carded for his third stamping offence in sight of the referee.
Ards were now determined to see out the game well and despite opportunities, they didn’t manage to close the gap. The last 10 minutes saw Academy dominate territory and Ards faced 4 scrums in a row on their own 5 metre line with Academy restored to full strength, but managed to win a turnover and build out their phases as the match closed off.
Given the inexperience of the squad on the day, there are many positives to take, despite a defeat; the efforts of all will stand them in good stead for the remainder of the season.
Final score: Academy 33 v Ards 9
Next week sees a rest for Ards 1sts, with their fixtures resuming on 2nd March with a home tie against Lurgan RFC.