On an unexpectedly warm and sunny day, the 1st and 2nd teams from Bangor and Donaghadee lined up on the half way line to mark a minute’s silence in memory of John Macmillan who passed away suddenly this week. As a past president of the club and regular touchline supporter, John will be sadly missed.
With the wind in their favour, Donaghadee got proceedings underway and started to build an attack. As this was Bangor’s first competitive game, they looked tentative at first, but defended robustly to deny the visitors any opening chances. However, Bangor’s confidence grew rapidly and started to enjoy prolonged possession. With most of the first 15 minutes played in the Dee half, it started to look like Bangor would make the breakthrough and, indeed, came close on a number of occasions. However, an excellent clearance kick by Bill Allen brought the game right back into Bangor’s twenty two. A poor lineout by Bangor was seized upon by the Dee forwards who won the ball, allowing David Murray to crash over from short distance to score to the right of the posts. The wind pushed Allen’s kick wide, but Donaghadee had an unexpected lead of 0-5.
Undeterred, Bangor picked up where they left off earlier and moved back into the Dee half. Just 7 minutes later, from a penalty and subsequent lineout, Peter Corbett won the ball and started a drive towards the Dee line. The Bangor pack worked well together to eventually push the Dee over their own line and score through newcomer Gareth Irvine. Jason Morgan missed the conversion, but the scores were now levelled at 5 apiece.
The remainder of the first half was notable only for the number of penalties conceded by both sides. However, there was just one successful kick from Jason Morgan, bringing the halftime score to 8-5. Bangor would undoubtedly feel pleased with this, given that the wind would be at their backs for the remainder of the game.
And so it was with just 6 minutes of the second half gone, Bangor pressed into the Dee twenty two and repeated the earlier success from their powerful rolling maul. The first move was by Nick Hatton, then taken up by Ricky Armstrong before Andrew Jackson
drove through to score under a mass of Dee players. This time the conversion was successful and Bangor’s lead was now 15-5.
The Bangor back line had shown real confidence and enterprise, but had yet to get on the score sheet. However, just another 6 minutes later, they strung together several crisp passes, eventually getting the ball to winger Jamie Foulkes
. Despite the close attentions of the Dee defence, and very little room to manoeuvre, he managed to squeeze in on the right hand touchline for a well-deserved try. The difficult conversion nearly got through, but was denied by the right hand upright.
With the score now at 20-5, Donaghadee had little option but to push everything into attack. In a bruising period of play which saw Paddy Dornan sidelined with a bad knock to the head, the Dee started to push Bangor back towards their own twenty two. Thankfully, a good clearance kick, ably assisted by the following wind, turned defence into attack for Bangor. Donaghadee found touch, but after a few phases of play following the successful Bangor lineout, the ball came to Peter Corbett with just 5 metres to the Dee line. Having sold a dummy to the Dee defence, the path to the line was clear, allowing him to score just to the left of the posts, thus giving Jason Morgan a straightforward conversion to extend the lead to 27-5.
With the game now moving into the final quarter, it was clear that while Donaghadee tried to mount an attack, the Bangor defence was sound and ready to counter-attack quickly. This was the course of play for a further 14 minutes. Then the combination of a secure lineout and quick back line produced Bangor’s fifth try, this time from Chris Morgan
In the dying minutes, Jason Morgan got his reward for another strong performance at centre. A characteristically jinking run cut through a tired Dee defence to score under the posts. His successful conversion brought the score to 41-5. Just a few minutes later the whistle blew for full time, and the home side were finally able to celebrate the return of the Rodney Gray Cup to Upritchard Park.
This pre-season ‘friendly’ should have settled the pre-season nerves and instilled some confidence in the players after a constructive summer of training. Now the focus will be on the start of the competitive season, with the first league game next Saturday at home to league newcomers Randalstown.
Bangor Scores: G Irvine (1T), A Jackson (1T), J Foulkes (1T), P Corbett (1T), C Morgan (1T), J Morgan (1T, 4C, 1P)