This eagerly anticipated league fixture between two of the top four sides in Qualifying Two did not disappoint the large crowd that gathered at Donaghadee Rugby Club for this midweek fixture under the Donaldson Park floodlights. Messrs Blewitt and Ross had again worked their magic to have the playing surface presented in excellent condition, despite the recent inclement weather. It was the home side, and out-half-for-the-evening Bobby Harpur, who kicked off with the slope advantage.
From an early scrum Donaghadee’s number eight Richard Millar and scrum-half Alastair Lockhart made ground into the Ballyclare half. Millar and Rory Garnham combined down the left touchline, with Millar sending a deft kick through to the Ballyclare in-goal area, only for the visiting cover to win the race for the touch-down. From the drop-out Richard Martindale secured the ball for his forwards to win an early penalty; however Millar’s penalty attempt drifted wide of the posts.
Not to be dismayed, within minutes Donaghadee had opened the scoring with Millar and Lockhart taking the ball forward. From the recycled ball Chris Schofield made ground, with Lockhart putting centre Andrew Findlater in for the first try of the night. Millar added the points from out wide to give the Dee a 7–0 lead.
From the kick-off Dee out-half Bobby Harpur had his clearance kick charged down, only for the alert Gavin Gordon to pounce on the loose ball in his twenty two. With supporting players Millar, Lockhart and Findlater carrying on the play and carrying the ball out of the Donaghadee twenty two and into the visitor’s territory, winger Chris Woods was on hand to finish off an excellent counter attack, for his second try in as many matches for the Dee. Millar again added the points for a 14–0 lead.
Donaghadee Rugby Club’s 1st XV were in a rampant mood now, with all the players wanting to get their hands on the ball. After only 15 minutes referee David Coey had to warn Ballyclare’s wing forward Michael Stevenson to cool things, as frustration was becoming more and more evident on Ballyclare’s faces - such was the domination of this young Dee side. When Ballyclare’s number eight Willy Logan was penalised for holding on at the breakdown, Millar stepped up to convert a thirty five metre penalty, putting the home side 17–0 in front after seventeen minutes.
Ballyclare came back with their centre Chris Hall making a fine break towards the Dee twenty two, however from the resulting breakdown the Ballyclare pack were penalised for holding on. Harpur’s quick thinking allowed his backs, through Woods, to run the ball and put winger Rory Garnham away on a searing run down the right wing. A score looked certain, until the Ballyclare left winger Gary Weathercup bundled Garnham into touch with a superb cover tackle. With the two Richards – Martindale and Millar – dominating the lineout, the Ballyclare side were forced to feed off scrappy ball. From good attacking scrums both number eights: Millar for Donaghadee and Logan for the visitors - were to knock-on balls. When the Ballyclare wing forward Stevenson was again warned by the referee, Millar failed to convert a penalty opportunity from his own ten metre line.
With thirty five minutes gone, Ballyclare lost their full-back James Jackson to a nasty looking ankle injury. Lockhart was instrumental in a telling break, only for the Ballyclare player to deliberately knock the ball down. From the resultant penalty the Dee players carried the ball forty yards. However from a catch and drive following a lineout, Donaghadee’s full-back Billy Allen was penalised for holding on, to leave the half time score at 17–0.
Captain Chris Schofield secured the restart to the second half, and the home side were able to present ball for Garnham and Gavin Gordon to combine and create an early second half opportunity. The play became scrappy for several minutes, as the Ballyclare side through their experienced number eight Willy Logan attempted to get his team back into the game. An off the ball incident led the referee to speak to both captains. An astute kick from Schofield, showing that there really is no end to his talents, carried play up to the Ballyclare twenty two when the Dee were presented with a penalty. From this attack the Dee lost their influential centre Gavin Gordon to injury. Scrum-half Alastair Lockhart continued to pose problems for the Ballyclare backrow and half backs as he continually looked for openings.
The all-important third try came when Donaghadee turned over ball in the Ballyclare twenty two, and spread the ball wide quickly for number eight Millar to score a try with a superb one-handed touchdown in the left hand corner. The same player was unable to add the difficult conversion. Richard Martindale then secured the kick-off to release out-half Bobby Harpur on another break. His kick was charged down to allow the Ballyclare centre JJ Baird to grubber-kick the ball towards the Dee ten metre line. While the Dee players had fumbled the ball at several key stages, the heads of the players never dropped as they went about securing possession to launch further attacks. When Lockhart and Garnham combined to put full back Billy Allen into space, it took another excellent cover tackle from the Ballyclare winger to prevent a score.
Within minutes Lockhart had made another superb break to unleash Garnham down the wing. Remaining in close support, he received the ball back from his winger and ran hard at the covering defence. A deft and clever kick ahead, over the head of the defender, should have given Lockhart a clear run-in to the tryline. However, before gathering the ball, he was cynically taken out by a vicious trip from Ballyclare’s winger Gary Weatherup, who was duly dispatched to the sin bin for ten minutes. Captain Schofield allowed matters to calm down, and ushered Millar up to kick another penalty – successfully taken to increase the Dee lead to 25–0.
Again Lockhart was causing all sorts of problems with his probing runs, and eventually the Dee pressure told. From a Ballyclare scrum fifteen metres out from the visitor’s line, the scrum was wheeled to take Ballyclare’s flankers out of the equation. Donaghadee’s speedy openside Chris Hamilton spotted the space, picked up and ran in unopposed underneath the posts to score his side’s fourth try, with Millar adding the points to increase Donaghadee’s lead to 32–0.
With several minutes remaining the Ballyclare side continued to push for that all important consolation score, but the Dee defence was equally determined to keep them out. With no further scoring the referee blew his whistle to end another thoroughly enjoyable game of rugby played by this dynamic and exciting young Dee side.
Again, from 1–15, all the players played their part; however special mention must go to scrum-half Alastair Lockhart who again demonstrated what a talent he is. This young Regent House player will certainly be a name to watch out for in the future. Well done guys.
Donagahdee Rugby Club 1st XV vs Ballyclare: (15-9) Billy Allen, Chris Woods, Gavin Gordon, Andrew Findlater, Rory Garnham, Bobby Harpur, Alastair Lockhart; (1-8) Chris Schofield (captain), Paul Hamilton, Gareth Gordon, Kyle Morrow, Richard Martindale, Craig McCoy, Chris Hamilton, Richard Millar.