Rainey Endowed 1st XV 5 -6 Down High 1st XV
Having produced a very mature performance against Lurgan in Round 2 of the cup, Down High travelled to Magherafelt on Saturday confident in their ability but also knowing their Rainey rivals would present a much sterner challenge. In what was a performance of pure grit and determination they came back down the road with a historic win.
Down started the game with the strong wind on their backs but got off to a shaky start. In the initial exchanges they showed poor discipline at the breakdown resulting in Rainey being able to clear their lines on several occasions. The Down lads also struggled to kick effectively in the strong wind with several going out on the full, again allowing Rainey to gain significant yardage.
Indeed it was Rainey who recorded the first score of the game around the 12 minute mark when after carrying well into the Down half they identified and exploited an overlap that saw their winger Andrew Nicholl cross the whitewash untouched. The tough conversion fell to the outside of the posts.
This score seemed to galvanise Down as they began to make smarter use of the wind and found themselves being able to mount a number of promising attacks deep in Rainey territory. Within 3 minutes of the Rainey opening try, they came very close to scoring in the corner when Peter Calvert gave a pass to Nathan Gibson only for the mobile prop to be bumped into touch by the scrambling home defence. Eventually all the pressure provided Down with a chance to reduce Rainey's lead when the hosts were adjudged to have illegally slowed ball up at the breakdown. Patrick Wright kept his nerve and struck the resulting penalty very successfully opening the Down account and reduce the deficit to 3-5.
For the remainder of the half Down continued to throw everything at Rainey and occasionally looked like getting a line break that would lead to a try but the home defence was resolute and they constantly snuffed out Down's threats. Fortunately, they were able to add one crucial penalty before half time, again through Patrick Wright, to take a 6-5 lead into the break
As the second half got underway Down High knew they would have produce an exceptional performance to protect their slender lead as they faced the strong wind and a Rainey team who had showed both strong kicking and carrying ability in the first half.
Inevitably long periods of the half were played in the Down territory but the visitors were ruthless in defence and smart with ball in hand. They consistently soaked up the charges of the strong Rainey pack and forced errors from the host's backline. When in possession they kept the ball tight and did all they could to reduce Rainey's time on the ball. Of particular note was the strong Down line out that time after time provided their backs with a chance to clear play out of the 22 after accurate kicking from Rainey had put Down under pressure.
As the clock ticked on Rainey continued to threaten and any neutral observer knew it would only take one line break or one piece of Down indiscipline to see Rainey overcome the narrow Down lead. However in the tense final encounters that elusive score never came for the home side and after a lineout Down bundled the Rainey pack into touch to signal a historic win for the boys in green who enter the quarter finals of the Danske Bank Schools Cup for the first time. They will take on Sullivan on Saturday 22nd February in Downpatrick (10.30 KO).