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Popping the cork!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Popping the cork! thumbnailAndrew Morrison scorches home for Bannís fourth try.

BANBRIDGE will play in Division One of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League next season - 19 years after moving up from the ranks of Junior Rugby in Ulster.

SUNDAY'S WELL ...12
BANBRIDGE ...40.

After just failing to achieve promotion in each of the last two seasons the Rifle Park side made no mistake this time around, finishing top of Division 2A to claim the one automatic promotion place on offer.

Bann travelled to Cork last Saturday knowing that a win would leave them outright winners and they succeeded in style, scoring six tries to round off an impressive second half of the season during which they chalked up 33 points out of a possible 35 from their last seven games.

An emotional Club President John Ewart said that he couldn't believe that the club had at last battled through to claim the league title.

Speaking in the immediate aftermath he said that the success was the result of a lot of hard work by coaches, players and everybody involved with the running of the club.

"It's been a fantastic effort all round," he said. "We knew we just had to win the game today but we did it in style, scoring six tries. We didn't have to chase the game.

Sunday's Well didn't make it easy, we had to play well to win but the lads were up for it and it was a deserved win.

"We've been close over the last couple of seasons and the lads got a taste for it and wanted to finish the job and they certainly did that. This means everything to the club- we're now among the top three clubs in Ulster. We'll have to step it up again next season but I'm confident we can do that with the young squad we have - we 're looking forward to the challenge of Division One rugby." Bann showed no signs of nerves as they controlled the early play, logging their first try after just six minutes when John Porter won the race to Andrew Magrath's tidy grubber behind the Well defence.

Despite their continued dominance of the exchanges Bann didn't add to their tally until the 31st minute. A slick three quarter move gave Porter the chance to grab his second try but the winger was brought down at the corner flag by a high tackle. The referee waved his yellow card before signalling a penalty try which Andrew Magrath converted, adding a 43 metre penalty before the break for a 0-15 interval lead.

No 8 Stephen Irvine was again a key figure for the visitors and his impressive break off a lineout took play close to the Well line, centre Jonny Little taking the offload to touch down, with Magrath's conversion stretching the lead to 0-22.

The home side then enjoyed their best spell of the game, going through countless phases before driving a lineout from outside Bann's "22" to allow prop Chris O'Regan to grab their opening score.

But Magrath's second penalty on 56 minutes was followed by a stunning try by Bann centre Andrew Morrison, who sprinted 43 metres to finish off a practice ground move and take his side 25 points clear. Bann emptied their bench and replacement hooker Tim Savage underlined the strength in depth by getting on the end of a multi-pass move on 75 minutes for the fifth try.

The home side's flanker Conor O'Brien caught the re-start to gallop through the Bann ranks for his side's second touch down, but fittingly the League champions- elect had the final say, with fullback Adam Doherty crossing in the cor ner.

Bann coach Daniel Soper said that the way his team had played in the last couple of months had given him confidence going into the game that they would get the win.

"We probably weren't exceptional today but we were good enough and took our chances.

"The whole team has been growing over the last couple of seasons - they really understand their roles and how we're trying to play. But we've also been fortunate to have the likes of Michael Cromie and Ian Porter coming back from playing professional rugby. They've brought another level to our training and the way that we're able to play.

"With Ian at scrum-half we're able to play with a real pace and tempo to our game - when we get that right other teams struggle to deal with it. Ian and Andy (Magrath) have been a really good combination at 9 and 10. When you have halfbacks on top of their game then generally the team is going pretty well and that's been the key to the run over the last couple of months.

"Those two have developed a good combination -we used nine different combinations of half-backs this season just through injuries and we weren't settled early on.

We've been fortunate elsewhere that we haven't had injuries.

" We've only used three props all season in the AIL, Jonny (Little) and Andy (Morrison) have been in the centre all along and Stephen Irvine and Robin Sinton have played virtually all season in the back row.

Soper said that he hadn't really given much thought to next season. "We 'll go into Division 1B with a degree of confidence but it's also a step into the unknown to some extent.

"We'll find out how big a step-up it is but when you look at how Naas and UCC have performed after their promotion last season then you have to think that we'll be competitive .

"We 've got to where we've got without an aggressive recruitment drive - it's been about trying to do as well as we can with the players we have. Of course we'll welcome players coming to our club and we're likely to have the scenario of Ulster steering players towards us.

"But if we can get players who are from the Banbridge area who are in that system, they're the players we want so that we have a team that can represent the local community.

"That's what we have at the minute and they've done it brilliantly."

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