Serious injuries mar heroic effort from Randalstown First XV
SATURDAY’S 27-31 defeat for Randalstown against Bangor was a story of total heroism set against a background of tragedy.
Randalstown entertained promotion favourites Bangor, fresh from a Towns Cup victory over runaway Section I leaders Portadown.
Having suffered a heavy defeat at Bangor in their first match in this higher division, Randalstown knew they had a formidable task but they also knew that they were a harder, different team and that they had learned a lot along the road since the carefree days of early September.
They also had the inestimable advantage of the large Randalstown home support and the Neillsbrook pitch where any opposing side has to work very hard for anything they get.
The day was perfect for rugby with no wind at all although the pitch was slightly heavy. Bangor started like a runaway train down the slope but Randalstown defended solidly as they always do and presently began to drive deep into the Bangor half when the first tragedy struck.
Star forward Liam Hurrell overextended his leg in a ruck and suffered a horrendous groin injury which finished his match and possibly his season.
This left young Ian Hume, just called up a couple of hours before the game, to cover Bangor’s two best players on the day, the number 8 and out-half. Either would have been a handful, two was an impossibility, but Ian left absolutely nothing on the pitch and scored a fine interception try.
Randalstown could easily have been excused for dropping the head and settling for damage limitation but that is not in this team’s psyche.
The pack under Neil Foster’s inspirational leadership put their shoulder to the task. The three front row men were magnificent, giving nothing in the scrum, tackling like dervishes and driving powerfully in the loose, with Foster back to his running best.
The second row was rock solid and of the depleted back row, more later. The lineout functioned efficiently and easily achieved parity. Even more significantly, the pack operated better as a unit than their more numerous opponents and show the results of the long hours on the training field.
In the backs, John O’Kane had the game of his life, heroic in defence, sharp behind the scrum and kicking five from five. In the circumstances there was a lot of defensive work and the other backs were not found wanting. Rab Fleck plays Neillsbrook the way Ronan O’Gara plays Thomond Park. William Montgomery was, as always, a class above. David Smith has improved his defensive game out of all recognition but sadly sustained an injury in a tackle and had to go off.
The back three were solid, gave nothing away and Niall McGlade in particular ran very well from scraps. Jamie Barron was dependability itself at full back and possesses an enviable boot. The only ongoing problem the team has, is the occasional lack of concentration in broken play defence, which resulted in at least three of the Bangor tries.
After the initial shock Bangor came down the slope very hard and scored three good tries in the first half, interspersed by long periods when Randalstown stuck the ball up their jumpers, from where Bangor tried in vain to dislodge it.
Randalstown replied with two penalties from O’Kane and turned round with the score 6–19. This is far from insurmountable with the benefit of the slope and pressure from Ian Hume and William Montgomery led to defensive errors and interception tries for both, converted by O’Kane. Two tries by Bangor, one when O’Kane was temporarily off, brought the score to 31–20.
David Smith retired with a head injury and Ian Hume was yellow carded to bring the head count down to twelve. In Neil Foster’s greatest moment, he called his troops together and demanded a final effort. The play was driven down into the bottom corner. James Millar came thundering round the narrow side of the maul and was bundled into touch inches short when the final tragedy struck and Neil Foster broke his leg in two places.
With the headcount now 11 and Foster on the touchline writhing in agony, the coach called for a catch and drive. Gary Hume soared at number two and the five forwards drove straight through the Bangor pack for David Millar to score yet again and earn the most expensive bonus point in the history of the club.
The man of the match is simple because Harry Williams, coach of Ulster’s only Heineken Cup win, remarked to this writer that in a magnificent Randalstown pack, Dan Wilson was outstanding.
This Saturday the 1st XV entertain Carrick at home in a fairly crucial game, while the second XV entertain Coleraine 4s.
As indeed has been alluded to both Captain Foster and Hurrell will be unavailable for selection due to the serious injuries sustained.
Coach Stevenson will need all available bodies at training this week as he considers his options to plug these sizeable gaps.
The club’s best wishes go to both Neil and Liam for full and speedy recoveries. Hopefully young Smith will soon be back fit to play and has sustained nothing more serious than a nasty bang on the head.
CIYMS III 10, Randalstown II 43: On a very fair January afternoon at Belmont Randalstown 2nds dispatched their Belfast opponents in summary fashion to progress to the next round of the Forster Cup.
Fielding a couple of 2nd XV debutants, and no doubt being a little ring rusty such as been the long layoff since their last outing, captain Hyndman and Manager Sloane will no doubt be happy with a relatively straightforward win.
The game was slow to start as CI made heavy weather of the kick off, then ‘town were unable to gain quick advantage, but on 10 minutes one of the aforementioned debutants, Snow, gathered a poor clearance on the 10 meter mark and was able to side step the home defence to go in under the posts. Turner converted.
CI then lost a man for a few minutes injured as he charged down an attempted clearance by Randalstown, yet they continued to keep the visitors pinned well inside the 22. Eventually debutant number 2 Kilpatrick broke out but was turned over and only some stout defence kept CI from crossing the ‘Town line.
Indeed it was to be half an hour in before Randalstown could gain further advantage, this time via Emmet Crawford on the wing, and again Turner added the extras to edge ahead 14-0. With half time approaching CI converted a penalty opportunity before ‘Town ratched it up a notch and ran in 2 further tries before the break.
The first came after Turner put in a long kick to take them just outside the CI 22 metre line. Town stole the lineout and Loughlin, Kilpatrick and Hamilton all ran good lines before the final offload to skipper Hyndman who skipped in for his first try of the season. Turner bounced the conversion off the right hand upright.
Immediately after McWhirter broke up the middle of the park and Turner was on hand to gather a fairly shocking offload and score. He added the extras and extended the lead at half time to 26-3 in favour of Randalstown.
It was difficult at this stage to foresee anything other than a Randalstown victory but the early stages of the second half was a testament in how not to play a game of rugby. Snow grabbed two more tries, then Harris burst through from a quick penalty.
CI made inroads too often up the middle of the park and some lazy tackling allowed their useful centre to break across the pitch and offload for a try out wide.
There were many encouraging moments from a Randalstown point of view, but that said there were moments were they appeared to loss focus perhaps due to the interminable stop-start nature of the second half. Hopefully this will have blown the cobwebs of a long lay off away and they will be ready to take on Coleraine at Neillsbrook next Saturday in the league.
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Weather for Antrim
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 14 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North west