Randalstown First XV were edged out by a singe point margin as they lost 18-17 at Larne on Saturday.
The hosts sustained the travelling ‘Town faithful with a tasty Christmas dinner prior to kick off and by the time proceedings were wound up inside conditions had improved slightly outside.
There was still quite a breeze gusting across the pitch from right to left so it was all credit to both teams in their endeavours under the conditions.
Larne started with the wind at their backs and were on the board early with a penalty 5 minutes in. Their tactics seemed both sensible and obvious as they endeavoured to kick long with the wind at their backs, although both Emmet Crawford and Darryl McGarry proved safe hands in the early exchanges. ‘Town however couldn’t protect possession and the home side were able to run in a try to increase their lead.
A further push on the ‘town line saw the try held up but a penalty advantage was pending and duly converted. From the restart ‘Town took control and made their way back up the pitch to come within inches of the line. From the scrum that ensued they worked hard to retain the ball and hooker Stevenson was able to gather and barge over to reduce the deficit as McGlade added the extras.
As the minutes ticked on ‘Town were coming to life with forwards and backs combining well until they were hit with an absolute sucker punch when the Larne scrum half effected a fine interception, and with the ‘Town backline on the attack and nobody left at home, ran in untouched. The half time score 18-7 against meant it was all to do, but the wind advantage was significant.
A series of infringements in the set piece saw the Larne 2nd row given a 10 minute respite and from yet another penalty ‘Town wisely elected to scrummage. The pack rumbled forward and Liam Hurrell was given enough room to squeeze over.
McClenaghan was on hand to take the restart cleanly and McGlade had the time to put in a long punt upfield. Donnelly was up quickly to put pressure on the defender who knocked on giving a substantial territorial advantage to the visitors. Again the scrum got the nod and McLean was unlucky not to score. Up for a repeat however ‘town rumbled forward until with the line in sight Captain Wilson broke off and charged over.
With 1 point separating them it was all to play for. Larne were pulling out all the stops to record this narrowest of victories, while the visitors tried everything to penetrate the obstinate defence. ‘Town put serious pressure on the Larne defence but it proved equal to the task and the scoreboard wasn’t troubled further.
The resultant bonus point keeps Randalstown in the top half of the league with a game or two in hand. On a very positive note the scrum caused Larne more than the odd headache with the front row of Hume, Stevenson and McBrien putting in a good shift, and the defence was solid.
Randalstown Seconds went down narrowly by 10 points to six to Ballymoney Seconds on Saturday.
It was a game where the unhospitable weather conditions weren’t conducive to free-clowing rugby.
‘Town 2s also opened against the wind and as was happening down the road in Larne rarely seen the inside of the home side’s half. Their defence was severely tested and to turn around only 10 points down was an achievement in many ways. Definite proof of the spirit and defensive abilities of this side!
Murray opened the ‘Town account within 2 minutes of the restart. Ballymoney however, despite playing against the wind, managed to play the better rugby and were for the most part able to keep ‘Town at bay outside the 22 and limit their scoring chances.
Another Murray penalty on the 60 minute mark gave ‘Town a glimmer of hope but the home side were strong enough to hold on for a deserved win.
It seems only a short time ago that Randalstown 2nds were competing against Ballymoney 4ths, in fact it was 2 seasons ago, so this underlines in no small way the progress they have made.
The fact that the defeat was by a slender margin indicates that they are not out of their depth in Junior 3 and Manager Sloane is confident that the wins will come, particularly with a lot of home advantage in the back end of the season.
Michael Patterson and Conor Ferry worked their socks off in the pack while veteran Adie Johnston was outstanding in the centre. There were impressive performances from John O’Kane at scrum half and Ben Hamilton in the front row as they ventured out for their first games of the season.
Both Randalstoiwn First and Second XVs return to action at Neillsbrook this Saturday.
The Firsts host Academy at Neillsbrook, a game they should win if the formbook is anything to go by. Kick off is as usual 2.30 pm. The Seconds are at home to Rainey Thirds.