Thomond benefit from costly errors
Questionable refereeing decisions and unfortunate errors cost Bangor dearly as they lost 16-10 against league leaders Thomond.
Bangor travelled to Limerick with the intention of toppling another league leading side in AIL Division 2C, like they had done against Malahide just a few weeks earlier. Although still suffering from a lengthy injury list and also the unavailability of Lewis Bret as he heads off to New Zealand, Bangor had assembled a strong side that was certainly capable of putting in a winning performance.
As Thomond kicked off, Bangor had the wind in their faces for the first half. Early signs were promising as the Bangor pack displayed some great rolling mauls. However, the big Thomond forwards were determined not to be overpowered as so many sides have been by Bangor. Pretty soon, the hard tackles escalated and, in an effort to calm matters, the referee yellow-carded a player from each side after a particularly aggressive encounter. This did little but give the game a nervy feel as both sides struggled to regain their composure. As it turned out, it was Thomond who benefited from repeated Bangor penalties, eventually going 3-0 down after a successful kick from Evan Cusack. Another penalty shortly afterwards was well worked as the Thomond forwards and backs combined to set their number eight, Leonard Slattery, clear to score the first try of the game. Although the conversion was missed, the home side were now ahead by 8-0 after 19 minutes of play.
Bangor responded well, and enjoyed the majority of possession for the remainder of the half. Although Thomond suffered another yellow card for an off the ball tackle, Bangor were only able to get 3 points on the scoreboard through the boot of Mark Widdowson following a successfully converted penalty. Nevertheless, as the sides turned around at half time, Bangor must have felt the more satisfied as they now had the wind at their backs and looked in better shape than several visibly tired Thomond players.
It only took 4 minutes of the second half for Bangor to signal their attacking intentions, as a lineout close to the Thomond twenty two was driven forward then, as the ball came out, it was taken on by Rob Gamble who ran around the Thomond defence to score close to the posts. With Widdowson’s conversion, Bangor were now ahead for the first time by 8-10. Just a few minutes later, Bangor could have been further ahead but for the ball to slip out of James Leary’s grasp just a few metres from the Thomond line. This was met with jeers from the touchline, but there were definite signs that the home side were under intense pressure and looking like they were having to concentrate on defence instead of attack. However, in the following 15 minute spell, and somewhat against the run of play, Bangor suffered a number of significant setbacks. The first was a yellow card for Lewis Stevenson, following the intervention of a touch judge, and this naturally disrupted Bangor’s good forward momentum. As play now moved up into Bangor territory for the first time in the second half, Thomond won another penalty just outside Bangor’s twenty two. Optimistically given the prevailing wind, they opted to kick for goal. Cusack’s kick went straight but high, and stalled in the wind. As the ball approached Bangor’s posts, the touch judges and Bangor players seemed satisfied that the ball had fallen just short. However, the referee judged from some distance away that it had gone over and the kick was given, putting Thomond back in front by 11-10. Although this was an obvious upset, Bangor were looking more than capable of getting back on terms. As they continued to push forward, Thomond had little option but to clear the danger with kicks to touch. Although now back in their own twenty two, Bangor had the put-in at the lineout, which had been functioning well. The ball was cleanly taken once again and passed back to Ross McCloskey who was looking to use the wind to kick well up-field. However, as the Thomond players bore down on him, his kick was charged down, allowing Liam Brock to gather the ball and run through to touch down for an opportunist try, although the conversion attempt was missed.
At 16-10 down, Bangor knew that a converted try was needed to snatch victory. Now back at full strength, the forwards took control and soon found themselves with an attacking lineout inside Thomond’s twenty two. Having won the ball, they formed a rolling maul that trundled steadily forwards. As the maul crossed the Thomond line, Andrew Shaw went down with the ball for looked like a textbook try. However the players were to be denied by the referee who decided the ball had been held up by the Thomond defence. By such decisions games are won and lost, and this error (have a look at the match photos) would cost Bangor dearly. Despite repeated surges on the Thomond line following this upset, Bangor were unable to breech the Thomond defence, and the home side held on until the final whistle to record a relieved victory, and consolidate their place at the top of the league. Although Bangor had the consolation of a losing bonus point, other results meant that they dropped out of the top four.
This was a classic example of ‘what might have been’ if decisions had been better. However, Bangor have now arguably faced their most difficult opponents and can look forward to two home fixtures against sides currently below them in the league standings. With no games scheduled for next weekend due to the finale of this year’s 6 Nations championship, Bangor have two weeks to regroup before facing Midleton in what will hopefully see a return to winning ways and get their league play-off hopes back on track.