Winning start continues for Bangor
Bangor’s great start in AIL Division 2C continued with a thumping 39-10 bonus point win at home against Thomond
Both sides came to Upritchard Park on Saturday with good opening victories, and each with a try scoring bonus point. With designs to return quickly to Division 2B, from where they dropped down to 2C just one season ago, Thomond were hoping to build on their earlier end-of-season form and overturn the defeat they suffered when they last visited Bangor. For Bangor’s part, they wanted to continue in the same vein as they had started with against Malahide, and also maintain their good home performance. Having picked up no injuries in their previous game, and with even more players becoming available, Bangor were able to field a strong side, with an equally strong bench. There was particular interest in new arrival Liam Preston making his first full start for Bangor at scrum half, freeing up Mark Widdowson to return to his more familiar role in the centre. It was also good to see Jamie Clegg on the bench, making a welcome return after missing most of last season through injury.
Bangor kicked off from the cricket end, playing with the breeze at their backs. From the outset Bangor looked sharp with the forwards and backs working together well to create some good opening attacks. In fact, before the Thomond players could settle properly, Mike Ferguson set off on a charge which broke through the opposition line. Just as he was about to get caught by three defending tacklers, he passed inside to Liam Preston who showed great speed and strength to run in from the Thomond twenty two and score beside the post. A wonderful try to mark your debut with! Unfortunately his score was marred by an unnecessary Thomond boot to his face as he dived over the line, for which the Thomond player received a yellow card. The straightforward conversion was taken by Declan Maguire, putting Bangor ahead by 7-0 after just 2 minutes.
From the restart, Thomond worked hard to keep Bangor pinned down inside their own twenty two, and within 3 minutes had forced a penalty in front of the Bangor posts. Evan Cusack’s successful kick at goal had quickly narrowed Bangor’s lead to 7-3.
The frenetic pace at which the game was now being played inevitably led to some handling mistakes, and it was from a Thomond knock-on in the centre of the pitch, that Bangor regained possession and were playing with the advantage. A quick pass found Mark Widdowson who sprinted through the Thomond defence to score an acrobatic try under the posts. Again, Maguire added the extras, extending Bangor’s lead to 14-3. A couple of minutes later, Maguire successfully added a penalty, putting his side 17-3 ahead. However, if Bangor thought things were all going their way, Thomond had a quick answer when another short period of pressure inside Bangor’s twenty two resulted in a converted try for Cusack. Suddenly, with the score now 17-10, the game looked to be very open again, and we were just 15 minutes into the game.
For most of the remainder of the first half, Bangor kept up the pressure, coming close through Andrew Shaw and Phil Broderick – both denied by some last-ditch tackles by Thomond. With the half time approaching, there were some worries that Bangor’s slender seven point lead might not be enough given that the visitors would have the wind at their backs in the second half. Perhaps with this in mind, Bangor upped the pressure and were soon back to within striking distance of the Thomond line. Although repeated waves of attack were held up by some solid defending, good handling and patience eventually saw a move started by Shaw, then taken on by James Henly and Lewis Stevenson, finally finished off with a brave dive for the line by Adam Alexander. Although Maguire’s conversion attempt bounced back off the upright, Bangor had produced an important blow with the last play of the half, and were now in a more comfortable position at 22-10.
As is so often the case, the first score of the second half can go a long way to determining how the remainder of the game will go. A converted try for Thomond would have put them within a winning striking distance, but by contrast if Bangor could get another try, it would not only put them safely out of danger, but would also secure another try-scoring bonus point. This was obviously not lost on the players, as they ignored the fact that the wind was in their faces, and carried on as they had finished the first half. It took just 6 minutes into the second half for Broderick, at full back, to gather the ball inside his own twenty two following a long kick by Thomond. Having made valuable yards to take play out of Bangor’s red zone, he passed to Maguire who continued the run towards the half way line. With a line of defenders ahead of him, and with few options to pass, he kicked over the heads of the Thomond players. Widdowson was in close support and set off in pursuit of the ball which was bouncing awkwardly inside the Thomond twenty two. Fortunately, the ball just sat up enough for him to gather it and make the final few yards before touching down for the bonus point try. It was disappointing, though, to witness another unnecessarily late Thomond challenge as the ball was being grounded, resulting in Widdowson receiving a painful back injury. Maguire’s conversion attempt was pushed wide by the wind, but Bangor were now 27-10 ahead after just 6 minutes of the second half.
Thomond were spurred into action, and there followed a period of sustained pressure in Bangor’s half. However, solid defending by Bangor frustrated their efforts. As the game approached its final quarter, Bangor suffered a yellow card for Alexander for persistent offside offences. With an extra man advantage in the backs, Thomond threw everything into attack and came very close just a couple of minutes later but in their efforts to get over Bangor’s line, they rolled and turned one time too many and the referee ruled it as a double movement. With the resulting penalty, Maguire’s good kick to touch cleared the danger and Bangor could settle again. Thomond’s case wasn’t helped when their frustration boiled over and a dangerous tackle saw one of their number consigned to the sin bin. With player numbers now equal on both sides, Bangor’s forwards seized the initiative. From just inside Thomond’s twenty two, James Leary got the ball and set off on a charge. As he began to force his way through the Thomond defence, he was joined by Jamie Clegg, and the pair produced an unstoppable drive that carried Leary over for the try. Maguire added the conversion, making Bangor all but home and dry at 34-10.
Unfortunately, both sides fell foul of the referee once again for poor tackles, but the game managed to finish on a high note for Bangor. From a move started by Preston in the middle of the pitch, the attack was taken on by Evan Wellard-McMillan, then Jamie Clegg down the right wing, before an inside pass to Mike Weir whose power and speed saw him complete the move with a score in the corner. The difficult conversion was missed, but at 39-10, the victory was Bangor’s, moving them up to the top of the Division 2C table.
With Midleton also winning with a bonus point, and now just behind Bangor on points difference, next weekend’s top-of-the-table clash between these two sides will determine who has made the most of the opening series of games before taking a rest week and will go a long way towards pitting down a marker for the other teams as the league progresses. Hopefully there will be a good number of travelling supporters who can urge their players on, while also enjoying Bangor’s new style of exciting and entertaining rugby.