Championship going to go down to the wire
Thursday, 9 March 2017
Omagh Accies 17
THE newly titled rugby championship is going to go down to the wire after Ballyclare made the long trip to Omagh and came away with a narrow 21-17 win that opens a window for both them and Instonians in what has proved to be a massively competitive campaign for all teams.
After winning a series of tight matches this year including single point victories over Enniskillen and Instonians, the Accies could not conjure up a late score to get over the line in this highly emotive game played in front of a big crowd in Co. Tyrone.
Several controversial decisions and failures to make decisions at critically important times went against the home team, one when the home side felt they had scored in the corner, the other following a fracas when a visiting player ran in from midfield to get involved. Omagh coach, Phil Marshall, did not use this as an excuse for his sides' narrow loss though.
“We had the chances to clear the ball from our 22 on a couple of occasions when 14-7 up, ran an opportunity from deep when we had an overlap, dropped the ball, and made the wrong decision to scrum in the last 10 minutes from a penalty - these hurt us today.", he admitted, before adding, "the main thing is though we learn from these mistakes. This is still a very young and developing side and they will take something from this. We are still in the driving seat - all we have to do is worry about ourselves and winning the last two matches."
Omagh made a late chance with Alan Heaney replacing Neil MacLaine and Andy Allen stepping up to the bench but were rocked early on when Ballyclare took a 7-0 lead courtesy of a converted score.
The home side responded and looked to play their band of expansive attacking rugby, and were rewarded when Scott Barr, who has been in prolific scoring form of late, was rewarded with another try from a well-executed backs move. Lee Murphy added the conversion.
Neil Brown extended the lead for Omagh, again showing pace and strength to finish off a well worked move involving most of the backs, with Murphy adding a fine conversion from the touchline.
In a game that was a contrast in styles with the Cloughan side using a strong pack to batter away up front and then using a centre to crash it up, and Omagh preferring to use a mobile pack and exciting backline, it was a game of chess that left the score at the break 14-7 to the Co. Tyrone men.
Ballyclare dominated the first period of the second half, playing the game in the Omagh 22 and pummelling away with their pack. Although the Accies had several opportunities to clear their lines, they opted not to apply the boot, couldn't get out and eventually the visitors had the numbers to go over for a converted try to tie the game.
From the restart, Alan Heaney claimed the ball and set up the attack with the ball transferred through several pairs of hands and phases, driving deep into the Ballyclare before the White Hare men were pinged. Murphy stepped up and slotted over the penalty to retake the lead for Omagh.
The first controversial moment happened. Omagh were comfortably defending multi-phase attack, and with the ball clearly outside the ruck, and the scrum half nowhere in the vicinity, Omagh flanker, Mervyn Edgar, picked up the ball and cleared only for the referee to award a penalty and issue the flanker with a yellow card.
Ballyclare chose to scrum, ruck and maul and eventually wore the home defence down to go over for a converted try and take the lead 21-17.
With the game entering the last 10 minutes, the Accies launched wave after wave of attacks going through many phases until they worked an opening and felt they had scored in the left corner only for the visiting touch judge trigger the second controversial moment and to rule a foot in touch and brought together the two sides in what could not be described as a meeting of hearts and minds.
With time running out and still four points adrift, Omagh kept the visitors penned in their own 22 and set up for another attack until another ruckus broke out with the referee questionably deciding not to reverse a penalty to the visitors. The clearance to touch marked the end of the game and sets up the final two weeks of the season into a tremendous climax, but disappointment for the home side in a match they felt they had done enough to win.
Omagh now have a tricky encounter away to Cooke at Shaw's Bridge this weekend at 2.30pm. Still in the driving seat, two bonus point wins will claim the title, but with Instonians facing Ballyclare next week, one of these sides will be out of the title race, and will alter the scenario regarding points. One rule change this year is that there is no decider if two sides finish equal on points at the end of the season - the team which fares better in the head to head matches that will take the honours. Omagh have a better record against Instonians, but if they finish level on points with Ballyclare, the Cloughan men would win courtesy of their two victories this season.
Team: Alistair Beckett, Ryan Mitchell, Scott Barr, Alan Heaney, Neil Brown, Lee Murphy, Stuart McCain, Kyle Alexander (c), Richard Hemphill, David Thompson, John Sproule, Jamie Sproule, Mervyn Edgar, Adam Longwell, James Catterson. Subs: Mark Hopton-Brown, Andy Allen.
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