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Promotion play-off this weekend.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Promotion play-off this weekend. thumbnailTension in the dugouts as Banbridge played Bohemians in the last of the regular league games this season.

AT THE end of another 80 minutes of turbocharged rugby Banbridge emerged with a bonus point win, which coupled with Ballynahinch's home defeat to Old Belvedere, earned the Rifle Park side second place in Division 1B of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League and home advantage over their Co Down rivals in the promotion play-off this Saturday.

Banbridge...32
UL Bohemian...30

Of the three clubs involved in the end-ofseason battle for the automatic promotion spot Shannon proved to have the greatest staying power over the final two Saturdays, with their wins over Old Wesley and UCC, the latter with a bonus point, bagging them the league title and a place in Division 1A next season.

Just as against UCC the previous week Bann handed the initiative to the opposition, an overthrow at a lineout gifting visitors UL Bohemians a try in the first minute through prop Joe Bennett.

Worse was to follow as Bohs' right winger Matt McDonald intercepted and sprinted 40 metres to touch down under the posts. When Robbie Bourke converted and added a penalty Bann were 15 points down with just 12 minutes played.

The home supporters on the packed sidelines took encouragement when Andrew Morrison broke through a tackle to race in from 30 metres for a try which James Hume converted for a 7-15 scoreline with 15 minutes played.

Bann continued to dominate and sustained pressure on the Bohs' line earned two penalties before Peter Cromie powered past two defenders en route to the try line. And by the interval Bann were 19-15 in front, with Morrison adding to his impressive tally of tries for the season by going in for his second, with Hume again successful off the tee.

Bann had two gilt-edged chances to add to their tally but a poor last pass on each occasion saw both opportunities blown.

The visitors needed a win to give themselves any chance of avoiding the relegation play-offs and skipper Ian Condell's unconverted try six minutes after the break saw them re-gain the lead, but it was to last only four minutes as Hume struck over a penalty to edge his side 22-20 in front.

Bourke's second penalty restored the single point advantage but again Bann responded, with Cromie finishing off another sweeping movement by touching down at the corner flag.


Hume had been called up for place-kicking duties in the absence of the injured Adam Doherty and the young centre struck a superb conversion from the sideline, a kick that was ultimately to separate the teams.

His 75th minute penalty put two scores between the sides so although the visitors had the last word, through Adrian Enright's try and Bourke's conversion, Bann were able to see out the time remaining for the win that earned them a home game in the play-off semis.

Despite the two points earned from their narrow defeat, UL Bohemian go into the relegation play-offs with a home game against Nenagh Ormond on Saturday.

Bann coach Daniel Soper was clearly delighted to have his team finishing as top Ulster side in the Ulster Bank League. But as he reflected on a tough season he recognised that it could all come to nothing if Bann were not to come through the play-offs.


"I said at the start of the season that I wanted us to finish ahead of Ballynahinch and Ballymena - at least that would mean we wouldn't be relegated," he said with a grin. "But it's been so hard to get this far in a very tough league and we don't want to let the opportunity slip and then all of a sudden find ourselves in September and we're back on zero points and starting again.

"To be ahead of Ballymena and 'Hinch is a pretty exceptional effort to be honest, but we're only ahead of 'Hinch for the next seven days until we play them and if we don't beat them then they can say they're ahead of us.

"Back in the summer I was thinking if we averaged two points a game where would that get us and if we had two and a half where would that get us. And that started off as our target so to get 3.44 per game is way beyond what I thought we could manage. We've done really really, well to get where we are.

"What's been really pleasing is the way the Ulster guys have come into this. The Academy guys like Eric (O'Sullivan) and Gregg (Jones) and Caleb (Montgomery) have integrated really well and have contributed fantastically to the team.

"But it's also been wonderful to see guys like Andrew Morrison and Stephen Irvine, the Cromies and Jonny Little, all these guys that have been about the squad for so long and have played in Division 2B and then 2A and proved themselves there and then end up proving that they're a match for any player in their position in 1B so that's been really rewarding as well.

"But the job's not done. It's been nice reflecting on what was an excellent achievement to finish second. But it's back to porridge now and if we don't perform on Saturday we're going to be disappointed with ourselves."


Bann have of course beaten Ballynahinch in the two Ulster Bank League games this season.

But Soper was taking nothing for granted. "In some ways that makes it a bit more risky.

They've a lot to prove - they were clearly disappointed in the two games that they lost against us earlier in the season. We won those games because we played very, very well. And we're going to have to play as well again to get another win.

So it's not just a case of turning up and it will happen."


Saturday's game between the top two sides in Ulster kicks off at Rifle Park at 2.30pm.


The prize for the winners is a promotion play-off final against either St Mary's or UCC on 28th April.

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