Danske Bank Schools Cup, Round 3:
Down High 28 Coleraine AI 34
Everyone with an awareness of Ulster Schools rugby expected this tie to be a closely fought encounter and it definitely lived up to expectation. Neither side had played each other this season but results against other schools were very comparable. Coleraine were seeded in the top 8 of the competition and yet they were facing a Down High side full of confidence from their Round 2 victory against Rainey. In what turned out to be a nail biting and high scoring fixture that went down to the last act of play, it was the men from the North Coast who took away the spoils.
Down High playing their first game on their newly laid first XV pitch got off to an ideal start. Within 3 minutes Jo Bingham had scored a penalty when he struck the ball neatly from the tee after a Coleraine infringement at the breakdown. A few minutes later, Patrick Preston, who had an excellent day in the backrow intercepted a Coleraine pass on the half way line and ran in for a try. Bingham added the extras giving the boys in green an early 10 point lead.
However it quickly became apparent that Coleraine weren't going to lie down and very shortly after the restart they worked their way into Down High territory where they caught the home defence napping to cross for a soft converted try off a quickly tapped penalty.
In what was becoming a entertaining spectacle for the neutral observer, it wasn't long until Down High responded with two impressive tries. The first came after Joseph Bingham fielded a high kick and then showed outstanding footwork to get outside his man and pass to Marcus Graham whose excellent evasion skills saw him run in out wide for an unconverted try. Outhalf Ross Carlisle was next to cross the whitewash when in the middle of an orchestrated set piece play he spotted a gap and showed excellent pace to go through it before rounding the Coleraine full back. Bingham struck the conversion well taking the host's lead to 22-7.
Despite being 15 points behind Coleraine completely dominated the following 15 minute period. They were undoubtedly aided by Down High's indiscipline at the breakdown and also some poor fringe defence by the home side but the men in white were ruthless in attack, making particularly good use of driven mauls off lineouts. In complete contrast to the preceding period and to the disappointment of the home crowd Coleraine managed to accumulate a penalty and two converted tries to take the lead by 2 points.
Just before half time Down High did manage to get a handle on affairs and after a number of attacking phases were awarded a penalty after a Coleraine player failed to roll away from the tackle area. Bingham, kicking from close to the 10 metre line, struck the ball well to put Down High back into the lead going into halftime. Halftime score 25-24
For all the points that been scored in the first half, the scoreboard was much less busy in the second half. Both sides were much more solid in defence and for long periods they traded possession back and forth.
It was 15 minutes before either team added to their tally and again it was Bingham kicking a penalty that saw Down High extend their lead. However as had been the case in the first half Coleraine responded almost immediately kicking a penalty that was given against the Down High side off the restart.
For most of the remaining time in the game both sides had considerable periods of play deep in their opponents territory. In one such period Down High nearly squeezed a try after Zac Ward made a break of a scrum and passed to Marcus Graham who crossed the try line but was adjudged to have been in touch. As time ticked on Down High who had the four point lead, seemed to be well in control and just needed to manage territory while keeping their defensive line intact. And they managed to do this with great effect until the very last, heartbreaking, moments of the game when Coleraine broke from a midfield tackle on the Down High 10 metre line and ran in under the posts for a converted try.
Understandably the Down High players and supporters were devastated and in a state of disbelief when the final whistle went knowing they were now out of the Cup. The boys now enter the Subsidiary Shield in which they have drawn Bangor Grammar at home in a game to be played on Saturday 24th February.
Danske Bank Schools Cup, Round 3: