In the luck of cup draws both the 1st XV and 3rd XV at Down High shipped out of Downpatrick early on Saturday morning both destined for the 2013 City of Culture to play Foyle College in their respective cup competitions.
The 1st XV, entering the Danske Bank Schools Cup in Round 3, travelled close to full strength after welcoming back a number of injured students into the squad.
Things got off to a fantastic start for the Down Boys when they were awarded a kickable penalty no more than 10 seconds into the game. The attempt from Patrick Wright fell short but gave Down good territorial gain. About 4 minutes later they did open the scoring when prop Nathan Gibson broke off a 25 m rolling maul to barge over for an unconverted try.
As the half developed Down continued to apply pressure. They showed particular strength in their defence, led from the front by scrum half Chris Gibson and dominance in their set piece play. As a result they were awarded a few more kickable penalties however accuracy in this department evaded them as all attempts drifted wide.
Around the 20 minute mark Ricky Gill made a break off a set piece play to run in for a try. Luca Rea converted to stretch the visitors' lead. Despite a number of significant breaks by players like number 8 Thomas Donnan and centre Patrick Wright Down High were unable to add to their tally before half time. Foyle did also seriously test the Down defence in the minutes leading up to the break but the men in green scrambled well to prevent any tries. However Foyle were buoyed up after Neil Burns landed a penalty for them just before the break. Half time score Down High 12 Foyle 3.
In the second half Down soon surrendered their early lead. No more than 2 minutes into the half Down showed some indiscipline at a ruck and Burns landed another penalty. This situation worsened for Down when Foyle centre Ryan Curry scored a converted try allowing Foyle to take the lead about 10 minutes into the half. Curry’s try came after some risky off loading by Down saw the ball turned over and the sharp Foyle backline expose some soft defence by the visiting side.
Now trailing by 1 point and with visions of another premature exit from the Schools Cup the Down side responded well. From this point they made excellent use of the boot for territorial gain and also showed some potency in attack with significant big carries from players like Kelvin Hamilton and Ryan Smyth. Indeed it was Hamilton who barged over for Down's third try after the side had strung together a number of phases of play. Rea added the extras.
With 15 minutes to go Down sealed their victory when some great open play by forwards such as Patrick Preston and captain Callum Kerr saw the ball moved wide to TJ McAvera who himself showed superb strength to bounce three covering tackles and dive over. After the missed conversion Down were left with the task of protecting their lead 11 point lead for the remainder of the game. They did this job well by kicking for territory and again scrambling well in defence.
When the final whistle sounded Down were relieved and delighted to have secured victory knowing they had put in a performance which justified the result. The squad now look forward to a Round 4 tie at home against last year's finalists Ballyclare on the 9th February.
As the the first XV left the field they were greeted by the 3rd XV who had just emerged from an 8-8 thriller in their second round fixture. They had scored a penalty through the boot of Luke Sanford and a try from Stuart Cochrane. The 3rds will now welcome Foyle to Downpatrick for the replay.
All in all a good day's work given the early start!
Down High 1st XV 43 - 20 Banbridge Academy
After a number of losses on the trot Down High were pleased to get back to winning ways on Saturday against Banbridge in Downpatrick. The game was evenly contested for the opening 20 minutes with both teams applying pressure. Down High looked most likely to score a try but it was the visitors who got the scoreboard moving as they landed two penalties in close succession after some indiscipline from the Down High pack.
The latter of the Banbridge penalties seemed to spark the home team into life and after a well taken line out on the 'Bridge five metre line, Nathan Gibson broke off to score his side's first try. Paddy Wright got the conversion.
A few minutes later Gibson scored again as he took ball off another well executed line out on the Banbridge 22 and showed great agility and strength to shirk of the covering tackles. Wright added the extras.The scored remained at 14-6 until half time.
In the second half Down High began to stretch their lead although all their scores were sandwiched by penalties from the consistent Banbridge fullback.
The first try in the half came from Kelvin Hamilton running in support of Nathan Gibson who made another trademark break off a line out. Gibson's pass to the supporting players ended up on the ground but Hamilton showed great co-ordination to scoop in up on the run and dive over. Wright added the extras.
Following two well struck penalties from the opposing kickers, Down extended their lead through two very similar tries from Hamilton and Paddy Wright respectively. Both were the result of Down High maintaining possession over a number of phases and stretching the visitor's defence allowing the two scorers the relatively simple job of picking a hole and running through it. Wright converted his own score but failed to convert Hamilton's try.
After another Banbridge penalty, the final Down score came through Toni Rush who showed good pace out wide after some great decision making and handling from forwards Peter Calvert and Darren Cheung. Again Wright got the conversion.
The game finished with Banbridge exploiting a tired Down defence and touching down their only try after a number of well earned phases. Ironically the conversion was the only kick missed by the Banbridge full back. His attempt also signalled the end of a useful encounter for both sides.
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