[pullquote]Report and pictures by Richard Owens[/pullquote]
Seven from seven for Old Wesley was a daunting statistic for Chris Henry’s squad to ponder and a slightly diluted Malone squad would need to produce a huge performance to break this impressive record.
Yet again the weather would dictate this contest as the strong wind would forced both teams to play running rugby rather than a boring kicking exchange.
Malone, wind behind, got us away and immediately Old Wesley whipped the ball through the hands and punched a hole in the middle of Malone’s line.
Pacy start from Old Wesley but their progress was abruptly halted by monster tackle from prop Peter Cooper dislodging the ball allowing an alert Conor McMenamin to boot it up the pitch, putting on a good chase to force Old Wesley’s full back to kick for touch which gained no relief as the ball was blown backwards in the fierce gust. The hooker hit two and Malone formed a perfect maul driving hard to the try line but a robust defence managed to hold the ball up as Malone’s lock tumbled to the ground.
This was a first look at the scrum and Malone were superior pushing Old Wesley back towards their line. Conor Spence at scrum half, didn’t wait to see if the pack could go all the way and snatched the ball out to the blind side where it ended in the hands of Callum Smith who crossed for try near the posts. Conversion from Jack Milligan was good and Malone were ahead 7-0 after five minutes. Perfect start.
Both sides then tried to play a wide game but the match was fractured by mistakes mostly from Old Wesley and from the resultant scrums you could see where Malone had the upper hand. The tight five deserve a particular mention as they completely destroyed Old Wesley winning theses encounters at every put in.
This gave Malone an excellent platform and eventually on 27 minutes they won a penalty which Milligan accurately slotted despite the wind. 10-0.
Old Wesley finally made it into Malone’s half after a tackle off the ball on their out half Conor Maguire, saw Malone’s number eight being sent to the bin and their kick advanced them inside the home 22. Only feet away from scoring they were penalised for not releasing in the tackle.
The determined Malone defence held out and it stayed 10-0 until half time.
Now with the wind and numbers advantage I anticipated Old Wesley would set about reversing the damage but basic errors from the visitors allowed Malone’s superb scrum to get them out of trouble again and again.
Despite being pinned down at the wrong end of the pitch they defended as if their lives depended on it, all players committing to a stellar effort.
On the one occasion they visited the opposition 22, Smith got his second running at similar angle to his first try to again touchdown close to the posts helping his kicker add his extras. 17-0 at 54 minutes.
Old Wesley hammered back and did their best to engineer a score gaining multiple penalties, opting to tap and run rather than kick. All this pressure lead to two further yellow cards for Malone and it demonstrated just how good their defence was.
Captain Dan Kerr urged his exhausted players to keep going and it was only on the last play that Old Wesley finally breached the line to get a consolation try, conversion missed.
I could have picked nearly any Malone player for my Front Row man of the match but for his total dominance at the scrum and tireless work in the loose, tackle after tackle, my vote goes to Ross Kane.
Hopefully we’ll see another performances like this when the sides meet after the Xmas break.
Full time 17-5 win for the Cregagh Red Socks.
Malone: Peter Cooper, Dan Kerr (Capt.), Ross Kane, Conor McMenamin, James McAlistar, Clayton Milligan, Dave Cave, James Welling, Conor Spence, Jack Milligan, Angus Kernohan, Callum Smith, Angus Curtis, Ben McCaughey, Andy Bryans. Replacements: Ben Halliday, Josh Davidson, Stuart Doddington, Matt Neil, Nathan Brown.
Old Wesley: Harry Noonan, Ben Burns, Conor Maguire, JJ O’Dea, Iain McGann ( Capt.), Conor Barry, Ian Condell, Paul Derham, Josh Miller, Tom Kiersey, Paul Harte, James O’Donovan, David Poff, Ed O’Keefe, Rory Stynes Replacements: Craig Telford, James Burton, Josh Pim, Craig Miller, Brendan Monaghan