Cup semi finals usually produce furious competition and this match delivered. Having watched Enniskillen put CIYMS and Instonians to the sword I had a hunch they might come out on top despite being the away team.
Sun warming the soft pitch Ballyclare began well, catching their own kick off and were immediately on the offensive in Enniskillen’s 22.
Some good phases before the ball was turned over and we got a first glimpse of Enniskillen’s scrum which was to be the differentiating set piece throughout the game. Ball in and the pack simply powered forward with the resulting penalty giving Enniskillen territory and possession.
Now on the attack Ballyclare were caught offside and on eight minutes Enniskillen’s out half, John Maguire, confidently kicked the shot between the uprights. 3-0.
Six minutes later on the half way line a double hit on Ballyclare’s running full back Josh Cowan, forced a wayward pass which was scooped up by Enniskillen’s wing, Mattie Dane who ran in unopposed to score Enniskillen’s first try, Maguire adding two further points with the conversion. 10-0
We then had the first yellow card as Ballyclare collapsed a maul however Enniskillen could not take advantage and the score stubbornly stayed put.
Centrefield another dominant Enniskillen scrum before Enniskillen’s busy scrum half, Nick Finlay, saw some space behind Ballyclare’s line and thumped the ball forward almost to the try line. Cowan tidied up the loose ball but was illegally brought down by the chasing Enniskillen’s back. The red mist descended and as players flew in to the skirmish before the ref separated opposing factions and produced the yellow again, this time for the high tackle.
Numbers even it was the impressive Enniskillen scrum that gave them the edge and again allowed the visitors back on the offensive winning a penalty in-front of the posts, which was taken, leaving the score 13 – 0 to Enniskillen at half time.
Ballyclare needed to get on the score sheet and they did just that ten minutes into the second half with an accurate shot from Matthew McDowell. 13-3
Ballyclare looked like they were finding some rhythm and had an opportunity to send a hard won penalty to the touch line deep in the red zone but touch was missed and Enniskillen played their way back downfield.
The ball was knocked on and it would appear the advantage was handed back to Ballyclare but that powerful pack produced an huge shove and the ball suddenly appeared in the number eight, James Carleton hands and he barrelled his way through the scrambling defence leaving players tumbled before stretching over the line to score try number two for Enniskillen, again converted. 20-3.
From the restart Enniskillen exited well and the long punt downfield was not cleanly picked up giving the visitors an attacking scrum in nearly the same position they were in only minutes before. The scrum did as it did all afternoon and sent Ballyclare into reverse. Maguire’s boot was called into action and his 100% record was maintained.
Now 23-3 and with only a quarter of the match remaining Ballyclare threw everything at Enniskillen and were only centimetres from scoring a try only to be denied by outstanding determined defence. Ball held up on the try line that authoritative Enniskillen scrum got them out of jail again and the line was cleared from the resultant penalty. The match finished in the dimming light with Ballyclare battering the Enniskillen line but the impressive vocal Finlay coerced his players into guarding the score and full time saw the it stay at 23-3 to Enniskillen.
The Front Row Union man of the match award to Enniskillen’s captain and tight head prop, Gareth Beatty for his superb performance, especially in the scrum. I look forward to seeing them in the final at Kingspan.
Image gallery below.