Chris Schofield is surrounded by teammates after scoring the winning try.
Belfast High School Former Pupils 1st XV 20-24 Donaghadee 1st XV
Donaghadee Rugby Club’s 1st XV were looking to make it three league wins from three inside eight days, against Qualifying Section 2’s bottom side Belfast High School Former Pupils in their game at Greenisland. With BHSFP involved in a struggle with Londonderry YMCA to avoid relegation to Qualifying Section 3, Donaghadee had to rely on a try eight minutes into injury time to maintain their push for the runners-up place in the league.
In a scrappy opening period Donaghadee Rugby Club’s 1st XV were struggling to win the collisions in open play, as BHSFP through their prop Davy Scott and wing-forward Jonny Price kept turning over ball. After a period of Dee pressure Richard Millar had an opportunity to put the visitors in front with a thirty five metre penalty kick; this however struck the post to be cleared by BHSFP’s defence.
In their first attack into the Dee twenty two BHSFP made an error at the lineout with a crooked throw, and the resulting scrum allowed the Dee to clear the ball into the BHSFP half. Referee Patrick Rea demonstrated he would not tolerate any indiscipline, as he reversed a High School penalty for a player talking back. Millar’s long range penalty dropped short of the posts.
From a loose Donaghadee lineout High School’s centre Alex Noble made a break to kick the ball towards the Dee twenty two. From the resulting lineout the alert Chris Hamilton gathered the ball, and made a break into the High School half, closely supported by his scrum-half Alastair Lockhart. Eventually the Dee forwards were able to work themselves up towards the High School line. From a crooked throw at a Dee lineout, the Donaghadee pack drove the High School scrum back and took the scrum against the head, allowing the alert wing-forward Craig McCoy to pounce and score an opportunist try, with Millar adding the conversation.
When Donaghadee’s out-half Bobby Harpur’s kick went straight into touch from the restart, BHSFP - through their Captain and number eight Andy Morrison - made a break, only for centre Davy Mayne’s attempted drop goal to drift wide. A crooked ball at scrum again put the Dee forwards under pressure, as the referee penalised the Dee side for holding on at the breakdown. Up stepped High School out-half Tim Murphy to narrow the Dee lead to 7–3.
With Donaghadee coming under increasing pressure from a hard working and committed High School team, it was that man Lockhart who settled the visitor’s nerves as he secured ball from a High School scrum on their ten metre line, to run in a fine individual try from 45 metres for Millar to add the points and increase the Dee lead to 14–3; a score that came against the run of play. Donaghadee’s centre Andrew Findlater had to leave the pitch due to injury, and the High School team saw the opportunity - upping the tempo with their centre Davy Mayne breaking away through a disorganised Dee back line to score a fine try wide out. Murphy was unable to add the points, with Donaghadee’s lead now 14–8.
When the High School were penalised at the breakdown, Millar’s penalty from the half way line dropped short. The seeming frailties of the Dee backline were again to be exposed, as Mayne intercepted a Millar pass on the halfway line to out-sprint the Donaghadee cover and score wide out. Again Murphy could not add the points in the difficult breeze. With Findlater having rejoined the action, it was a relieved Dee team who went into the halftime break leading 14–13.
The second half commenced with the High School sensing victory, as they continued to battle for possession and territory . Referee Rea used his yellow card to send the High School wing-forward Price, and Donaghadee’s out-half Bobby Harpur to the sin bin for ten minutes, after an off the ball scuffle. With tempers becoming frayed on both sides, the referee had to speak to both captains. Millar saw a further opportunity to score from a penalty fail, as his kick struggled with the stiff breeze.
Some overly complicated moves within the backs contributed to the Dee giving away hard fought possession. Two bright lights combined to give the travelling Donaghadee supporters hope, as winger Rory Garnham and scrum-half Alastair Lockhart continued to make breaks that unfortunately could not be finished off. With Lockhart urging on his forwards, the Dee were denied a try when the combined efforts of prop Chris Schofield and second row Kyle Morrow were not enough to get the ball touched down, after a pick up from number eight Marty Coulter following a Dee five metre scrum. From the resulting scrum Donaghadee knocked on, to allow the High School team to clear their lines.
With both sides restored to fifteen players, Donaghadee were again denied a try. From a lineout the ever-alert Lockhart broke blind, out sprinted the High School cover and touched down in the corner. However a High School defender had knocked over the corner flag during Lockhart’s break, and the touch judge put his flag up against Lockhart denying him what the visitors felt was a perfectly sound try. Lockhart at this stage was creating all sorts of problems for the High School cover, as his probing runs continued to open up the well-organised High School defence.
With Donaghadee in the ascendancy a further score had to come. From outside the High School twenty two, the Dee out-half Bobby Harpur used all his power to carry the ball to five metres from the High School line. He was able to offload to the supporting Paul Hamilton to touch down. Again Millar could not add the points, leaving the Dee leading 19–13.
BHSFP – still in the game with the scoreline putting them just 6 points behind Donaghadee - set about the business of securing an all-important converted try. From a five metre scrum on the Donaghadee line, their back row almost capitalised on Dee indecision to break through for that all important score. Again a break by High School centre Mayne almost put in his winger Jope Witi, with the player being forced into touch. Coulter calmed the Dee nerves with a vital take at the lineout, allowing the Dee forwards to rumble the ball forward for thirty yards. There was only one way to stop this surge, and the High School second row Chris Mills paid the price for pulling the maul down - being sent to the sin bin for ten minutes.
Again in their attempt to keep the ball alive, Donaghadee paid the price when that man Mayne again intercepted a pass on the halfway line, to send his winger Neil Hastings away for an excellent try. Murphy added the points to give the High School the lead - 20–19, with thirty minutes of the second half played. The High School supporters sensed a shock win as they continued to make life difficult for the Dee players.
Garnham and Lockhart continued to make breaks and gave the Dee side hope that they could turn around the score-line. With the clock running down, several of the High School players required treatment, as Donaghadee struggled to gain possession. A break by Findlater and Millar did create an opening, only for the Donaghadee’s inability to hold on to the ball in the contact letting them down. The signs were ominous for the Dee as play moved into injury time.
With the High School players and supporters shouting for the final whistle, Donaghadee created a final opportunity when they kicked a penalty into the corner. At the lineout, a crooked throw suggested that the opportunity was lost. However, a powerful surge on the High School scrum turned the ball over. Wise heads were required, as the Dee pack made several pushes for the line only to be repelled by a stubborn High School defence. Eventually prop Chris Schofield, aided by his second row Kyle Morrow and the Dee forwards, drove over the line for the match-winning try - much to the dismay of the High School supporters and players. The score by Schofield came a full eight minutes into injury time. Millar’s touchline conversion struck the post to signal the end to a dramatic match.
Injuries to key Donaghadee players including Davy Thompson, Paul Blewitt, Gavin Gordon, Billy Allen, and player/coach Ian Martindale have certainly tested the playing strength of the Dee's 1st XV squad in recent weeks – but to their credit they continue to turn in winning performances. Well done guys.
Donaghadee Rugby Club 1st XV: (1-8) Chris Schofield, Paul Hamilton, Chris Good (captain), Kyle Morrow, Stuart Hutchison, Craig McCoy, Chris Hamilton, Martin Coulter; (15-9) Stephen Marshall, Chris Wood, Richard Millar, Andrew Findlater, Rory Garnham, Bobby Harpur, Alastair Lockhart.
The introduction of Mickey Rainey as coach at the High School may have come too late to save the High School from relegation, but they still have one match left (at home to Omagh next Saturday) which might allow them a play-off with Londonderry YMCA. Who says club rugby isn’t exciting - the end of season run in leaves Donaghadee still on course for the runners-up spot in the league, with remaining matches at UCC on Saturday 17th April, and the final home match of the season against Londonderry YMCA on Saturday 24th April.
With CIYMS losing at Academy on Saturday, all that remains for Academy is to win their match away to Ballyclare on Wednesday night, in order to secure the league and promotion to Qualifying Section 1.
Coleraine RFC have escaped automatic relegation from Section 1 - defeating Clogher Vally 23-12 on Saturday and ensuring that it is Enniskillen RFC who will play in Section 2 next season. Bangor RFC now face a nervous wait - Coleraine have a remaining fixture to play that, if won, would see Bangor slip into the second from bottom position at the foot of Section 1. Depending on the performances of City of Derry and Portadown as they strive to reach/remain in AIL rugby, Coleraine or Bangor could be playing Section 2 rugby, or Donaghadee could be playing in Section 1 if the runners-up spot is secured. All that is certain is a fascinating end to the season!
Donaghadee Rugby Club's Alastair Lockhart makes another break.
Stuart Hutchinson taking clean ball in the lineout.
Winger Rory Garnham taking on the BHSFP scrum-half.