ANTRIM RFC slumped to defeat at Queen’s University IV on Saturday - with their opponents’ energetic work at the breakdown the difference between the two sides.
The blue-and-whites consistently made ground running with the ball but conceded turnovers too easily, the home side regularly poaching ball from rucks, cutting off attacks before they had time to develop.
Queen’s kept up their hard-working gameplan for the eighty minutes, won numerous breakdown penalties and, using their solid lineout as a platform, secured a 27-7 victory.
Visitors Antrim began the match well, number eight Mark Perry winning a turnover immediately from the kick off, ahead of a period of concerted pressure in the QUB half.
Bursts from hooker Michael Duncan and player/coach Richard Smyth left the home defence scrambling but a lack of composure meant the scoreboard was untroubled.
It was nearly ten minutes into the game before the home side went on the offensive, a grubber kick putting Antrim in their 22 ahead of a poor clearance which was ran back before strong defence forced a knock on.
From the resulting scrum, out half John Bull cleared the ball and a mistake by the opposing full back led to a line out for the blue-and-whites.
Large swathes of the first half were played in midfield, with neither team able to take control - Antrim were having the better of the collisions and tackles, but Queen’s compensated for this by throwing numbers into the breakdown to slow attacks and steal ball.
Carries from captain and blindside flanker Andy Chestnutt and centre Davy McKee punched holes in midfield, but the opposition defence never wilted, forcing the visitors to earn every metre.
In the twentieth minute a break from scrum half Neil Manson led to an attempt at goal, but the number nine missed the opportunity he himself had created to keep the game scoreless.
However, within five minutes QUB had the first try of the game. Following the penalty miss they worked the ball upfield and, going through numerous phases, squeezed over in the corner.
A missed conversion left the score at 5-0 but, although the deadlock had been broken, the match’s tension did not lift until the 40th minute.
Both sides produced salvos to try and take the contest their way in a committed fifteen minutes that ultimately decided the winner.
Antrim’s scrum was well anchored by props Ricky Walker and Chris Anderson, while the back three of wingers Jack Dempster and William Smith, and full back Jonny Campbell, all produced sparkling breaks in the rare moments when they got the ball in space.
Queen’s also produced attacks, but frequently suffered from strong tackling from the blue-and-whites, with out half Bull and second rows Cathal McSorley and Paul McAleer among those who were able to use their strength and good technique to keep opponents off the floor and secure turnovers.
Just before the break the home side won a penalty in the Antrim half and the successful kick added three points to their lead.
With only moments left before half time, the blue-and-whites let their concentration slip and Queen’s, sensing they could take a grip of the game, swarmed into the visitors’ 22 before their inside centre slipped off three soft tackles to score under the posts, leaving a simple kick to secure a 15-0 lead at the break.
The Allen Park outfit were left disappointed at their own failures, with another try conceded shortly after half time taking the lead to twenty points, ahead of a third quarter where the home side dominated territory during a series of back-and-forth phases.
Desperate to find a way back into the match, Antrim made changes but the game remained scrappy - with Queen’s fifteen man efforts at the breakdown snuffing out the visitors’ attacks, while their own broke up in the face of heavy tackling.
Second row McSorley went off for the returning Dominic Baldwin, while front row replacements Jason Vaughan and Billy Smith both continued the good work in the scrum.
Vaughan in particular left his mark on the game with a series of strong carries that caused the university side trouble, part of a number of long-range attacks that caused problems without leading to points.
Flanker Ryan Miller threw a miss-pass to put William Smith outside his opposite number, before taking the ball back off the winger after a 30 metre surge and crashing through two tackles.
However, although Antrim had the ball ready to be moved from the breakdown, dithering from the visitors and a counter-ruck from Queen’s meant the ball was turned over.
The blue-and-whites did eventually cross the line, with 74 minutes on the clock, when some rare concerted possession in the QUB 22 was used well, a series of drives taking the ball near the line before Baldwin ran from deep onto a short pass and was able to stretch out and score under the posts.
Manson’s conversion made the score 20-7, but any thoughts of a comeback were immediately dashed.
From the kick off a Queen’s infringement led to a scrum just outside the visitors’ 22.
Needing to score quickly, Bull ran a called move that was well-read by the defenders and the outhalf spilled the ball in a crunching tackle.
A QUB centre was first to the ball and crossed the line unopposed to seal victory for the university side and leave Antrim still searching for consistency in what has been a mixed season.