Bangor start season with powerful win
A rejuvenated Bangor 1st XV overpowered Division 2B side Rainey Old Boys to avenge their heavy defeat at the end of last season with a convincing 22-12 victory in the SONI Premiership.
Rainey’s stellar performances at the end of last season saw them rewarded with promotion from Division 2C to 2B in the All Ireland League. However, within the Ulster-only SONI Premiership competition, Bangor are grouped with Rainey, Harlequins, Dungannon, Queens University and Omagh. This fixture was therefore a good test of how both sides were adjusting to the challenges ahead.
Bangor kicked off and immediately looked to be alert and confident. Good line speed and effective tackling stifled the Rainey attack, and once again the Bangor scrum was in imperious form, forcing their opponents to regularly concede penalties. It was this dominance that resulted in the first score of the day after 21 minutes. Having worked their way well into the Rainey twenty two, Bangor used their scrummaging strength to firstly see the Rainey hooker sent to the sin bin for repeated infringements, then finally to force a penalty try when it was obvious the Rainey pack was not able to contain the drive.
For most of the remainder of the first half, Rainey struggled to create many attacking opportunities, whereas Bangor found chances for some of their new young players – namely Jason Storey, Nathan Graham and Lewis Bret – to demonstrate some of the skills that make them such exciting prospects for the future. Bangor’s positional kicking, though with good length and direction, didn’t always find touch. However, the speed at which the chasing players followed the ball limited the options open to the Rainey defence, forcing them to find a safe, if not lengthy touch. Having made good territory gains this way, the forwards then stepped up to play their part again. After 39 minutes, a rolling maul was stopped short of the Rainey line but having won another 5 metre scrum, the danger for the visitors wasn’t over. Once again, Bangor produced a powerful but well-controlled scrum which almost lifted their opposite numbers into the air. With Rainey having little option but to collapse the scum, the referee didn’t hesitate to award another penalty try, which saw Bangor go into a 14-0 lead.
As the second half got underway, it was the Rainey players who appeared to have come out of the blocks the quickest. In fact it took just 3 minutes for a speculative kick ahead to almost catch out the Bangor defence, only for it to be gathered within inches of their own line and carried over, giving Rainey a 5 metre scrum. The Bangor pack defended soundly, but having won the ball cleanly, Rainey spun it wide where Paul Pritchard nipped through a gap in Bangor’s backline to score a simple try. The conversion was added by Josh McIlroy which made the score now 14-7.
From the restart, the speed at which Bangor chased down the Rainey receiver forced a knock-on, giving Bangor another good attacking position. Once again, the pack forced another penalty which, on this occasion, was successfully kicked by Gareth Millar, and extended their lead to 17-7.
While Bangor could feel pleased with their scrum set piece, the same could not be said of their lineouts. The lack of accuracy in both throw-ins and jumping was clear to see, and it was this failing that resulted in Rainey’s second score. A Bangor lineout around halfway was easily stolen by Rainey before being quickly passed out to their centre Josh McIlroy. With an impressive burst of speed, McIlroy cut through the surprised Bangor defence before out-running the last man to score on the right hand side. His subsequent conversion attempt was unsuccessful, but Bangor’s lead had now been cut back to 17-12 with 16 minutes left to play.
While still coming under pressure from a now confident Rainey side, Bangor’s defensive resolve was remarkable, repeatedly turning over possession or forcing their opponents to concede penalties. Then, having won back possession, they held onto it and forced play back into the Rainey twenty two. Having successfully weathered the storm, and with only minutes left to play, Bangor had another scrum on Rainey’s 5 metre line. This time, the Bangor drive was controlled at the back of the scrum by David Bradford who marshalled the ball towards the line, then picked up and drove over from short distance. Although Ross McCloskey’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful, Bradford’s try had put Bangor 22-12 ahead and, in so doing, had denied Rainey a losing bonus point.
This was a great win for Bangor and one which rewards the hard work put in by both players and coaches alike in the build-up to this season. With a bye in the opening round of the Senior Cup next week, the next game for the 1st XV is another Premiership fixture away to Dungannon on 9th September. However, the action continues at Upritchard Park next weekend when the 3rd XV take on Academy 2nds in their first game in Provincial League 5, having won promotion last season.