Last Saturday Donaghadee continued their unbeaten run this season at Carrickfergus in rugby’s Qualifying League 2. Playing into a fairly brisk westerly breeze the forwards and backs went through much of their repertoire of tactics before some overly desperate defence by the home side in front of their posts gave outside-half Paul Blewitt the easiest of chances to convert a penalty for a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
The Dee kept pressing, but it was to be ten more minutes of uncompromising attacking before Alistair Lockhart found a narrow hole in the home defence and exploited it for an 8-0 lead. Carrick did try to mount attacks that they must have hoped might put them back on terms, but without any success due to the determined Donaghadee tackling. However Carrick did manage to convert a penalty goal shortly thereafter. This gave them some comfort at 8-3.
When Donaghadee forced the restart up the field yet again, they set up and constructed the move of the game. From well out on their right the Dee forwards ignored the deliberate fouling of the ball at the ruck and swung the ball right across their backline, all now conscious of the referee’s arm outstretched to show Donaghadee advantage. When Rory Garnham got the football with a bit of room on the out on the left he went round his opposite number and grounded the ball under the Carrick posts – only to be informed that the referee was signalling a penalty to Donaghadee – and yellow carding the Carrick culprit. Although desperately disappointed, Donaghadee opted for a scrum, but Carrick were able to clear. Not much of an advantage then. When the half-time whistle sounded, Donaghadee, although mostly dominant, had still been unable to gain any more points.
Not long into the second half it was the hard graft of the Donaghadee pack that produced their next points. They drove as a unit towards the Carrick line, and it was Chris Schofield who gave a slick reverse pass to the charging Gareth Gordon to gain the five points. With the score now at 13-3 to Donaghadee the home side threw in everything they could, but the Dee defence held. Then from close to his own line it was that man Schofield again. He grabbed a skittering ball and galloped away downfield. An awesome run out of defence took the impressive prop well into the Carrick half where he was able to link up again with his supporting pack. In an instant he was surrounded by support players and some lovely inter-passing between the Dee forwards presented Chris Hamilton with the space he needed to take the score to 18-3.
When Donaghadee next had the football it was their backs who broke down the defence. A planned move by them gave full-back Billy Allen the ball with forty metres to go and only three defenders out wide. Marcus Gibson was smart enough to make his support running a factor in the defenders’ minds, so Allen gave a suggestion of a pass to the winger and then ghosted through the gap left by the defenders who had chosen Gibson as the prime threat. This was a fine try well-honed on the training paddock, most important for Donaghadee because it ensured a bonus point for them.
The Carrick response was determined and hard and the remaining minutes seemed interminable. Shrewdly realising that all they could gain in the few minutes remaining was a losing bonus point, they strove hard enough to get one, and then, worryingly for Donaghadee, yet another. Carrick certainly won the finale of this game, but it still finished 23-17 to Donaghadee. So, both teams got a bonus point; Carrick salvaged something from their efforts, but the Donaghadee players left the playing enclosure a bit thoughtful because their control of the game had not been as good as it should have been. They knew they had the game well won after fifty minutes but should never have allowed their opposition back into contention. Doubtless they will remember this in future close games.