Down High 16 Methodist College 22
The rugby season at Down High came to a nail biting finish on Saturday at Friends School, Lisburn where the 2nd XV played out an exciting final against Methodist College. The boys from Downpatrick didn’t have an easy run to this final, the first in Down High’s history, having defeated Rainey Endowed, Ballyclare High, Ballymena Academy and Belfast Royal Academy on their way. What this journey did give was confidence that they could overturn their rivals, Methodist College.
Despite playing with the wind on their backs, the opening 10 minutes proved very costly for Down High as they conceded two soft tries off Methody set piece plays, the first being off a scrum and the second of a driven lineout. On both occasions the neat boot of Methody’s out half added the conversions to give his side an early 14-point lead.
Despite going behind so early, Down High didn’t cave in and around 12 minutes with persistence in attack, Methody conceded a penalty just outside their 22 for going off their feet in a ruck. John Hyndman opted for the kick and slotted it nicely to begin the process of eroding Methody’s lead.
As the half progressed it was clear to see that Down High’s confidence was growing both in attack and defence as they matched the side from Belfast in every regard. Indeed Down High were next to score, when on the 28 minute mark, John Hyndman added another penalty.
The final encounters of the first half were entertaining as both teams showed attacking promise but were matched by equally impressive defensive systems leading to no further scores before the interval. Half time score 14-6.
The start of the second half showed much resemblance to the start of the first in that Methody, now with wind assistance, pressured Down High territory. However there was one crucial difference as this time the Down High defence was rock solid with players like William Martin and Harry McCormick making some immense tackles. With each minute that the game went on, Methody’s frustration grew but equally did Down High confidence.
Play was stopped for a prolonged period 15 minutes into the half when Down High captain Stuart Cochrane received treatment for an injury. Proceedings resumed with Methody playing off a scrum 10 metres from the Down High line but Down High remained impenetrable and in a crucial play even managed to force a penalty allowing them to clear their lines.
The next 10 minutes of play were dominated by Down High and fruitful for them as they scored 10 points to take the lead in the game. William Annett scored the first of these points when he crossed the whitewash under the posts cutting a great line off Patrick Browne, who himself had found a gap in the Belfast side’s defence. Browne added the conversion to narrow the Methody lead to two points. 4 minutes later Methody strayed off side in their enthusiasm to keep Down High at bay and Johnny McCoubrey punished them by adding three points to give Down High the lead.
With 11 minutes to go everyone watching sensed an upset may be on the cards. However 3 minutes later Methody were awarded a penalty after a Down High infringement in the ruck. Despite being on the 10 metre line the Methody out half confidently struck the ball and took his side back into a narrow lead.
In the final period of the game Down High chased after a score but in the end their fate was sealed with the side from Belfast adding an unconverted try with 2 minutes left. Ultimately Down High will rue the opening minutes of this encounter but with reflection they will look back on a game and indeed a season where they have demonstrated outstanding rugby that has raised the bar of performance when a green shirt is put on.