Match report: Ophir 2nds 5 v Ards 3rds 57
By STEPHEN NUTT
Black Knights aren't 'Ophir' the hill yet!!
The Black Knights of Ards finally got their 2018/19 season up and running last Saturday with a high scoring victory against Ophir rugby club. This season’s opening Knights squad had a few changes from last year’s treble winning side with former Ards youth stars Gareth Doherty and Stevie Cullen returning to wear the black shirt once again. Also good to see senior debuts for Sam Hunter and Caleb Surgenor and collectively the new guys all complemented last seasons returning stalwarts to give Ards an encouraging start to the new season.
On a busy day for the Mallusk club, the good weather helped compensate for a slow track which allowed Ards to play some expansive rugby and this style proved successful on the day. The Ards pack made good inroads and when Gaw and Doherty spotted the gaps out wide they quickly transferred the ball to Fullback Chris Webster who cut through to open the Ards men’s account for the year.
The next score quickly followed with Captain David Thompson showing his predatory instincts remain as sharp as ever when he sprung from the base of a scrum to crash through the Ophir defence.
Ards third score was an absolute beauty with Thompson returning the restart with interest before Gaw, Doherty and Bale Tabaiwalu took play on before releasing Matty Warnock just inside the Ophir half. The Rubane flyer took off and sped past his opposing winger before an exquisite body swerve sent the home sides fullback into a tailspin as Warnock cruised in under the posts.
Ards had hit their stride and with Ophir reeling the Knights went straight back to work with Warnock once again providing the coup de grace finish after some good work from the forward pack.
The new season brings rustiness and a few uncharacteristic handling errors led to Ards loosing momentum and the closing moments of the half saw Ophir on the attack. The Black defence held firm with flankers Cullen and McKeag following the lead of the irrepressible David Chivers in repelling the opposition. The half time break allowed Ards to refocus and the introduction of Paul Hunter and Caleb Surgenor provided fresh impetus in the Ards pack as the second period commenced.
With Ophir getting some success at the end of the first half, it was important that Ards took control and the old heads of Thompson, Dowey and Matchett were critical in doing so throughout this key spell. Ards rallied following a searing break from David Reid who took play deep into the Ophir half and following several pick and drives from the pack, Phil Shields rumbled over to punctuate another great display from the front row man.
Neil Horner had taken advantage of the rolling subs and on his return he exploded into life with the run of the match. Coming onto a great angle Horner powered through the first wave of tackles and then stretched away from the cover defence, he was a certainty to score a special individual try when hauled down illegally but in recording a penalty try Ards got their rewards on the scoreboard at least.
Hard to believe that this season marks twenty years since Andrew Matchett lifted the European Cup in the white Ulster number 9 shirt. Thankfully the years have been kind to Matchey and he reminded the Black Knights of his class with a searing break from half way. As he drew the cover defence Matchey released Paul Hunter and the young Ards back row player accelerated over the line to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Ards backline was enjoying more space as the game entered the closing stages and with Matchett, Gaw and Doherty targeting the open areas Ards marched down the field again. This time the ball made it to the left wing where Matty Warnock danced up the touchline to dot down for a hat-trick and capping a fine personal display from the Lower Ards man.
Ophir did respond with a score of their own before Ards polished off a great performance with a good team try, working the play to the right wing where young debutant Sam Hunter used his pace to score Ards ninth try of a very successful afternoon.
Final score: Ophir 5 v Ards 57