While the professional game of rugby has undertaken a review of the rule changes that were designed to provide spectators with more running rugby instead of the negative defensive tactics that have resulted in fewer tries being scored, the large crowd of spectators at Donaldson Park on Saturday past were treated to a ten try spectacle as Donaghadee Rugby Club’s 1st XV completely outplayed their opponents in this one sided cup tie.
From the kick-off Donaghadee forced an early penalty through the efforts of forwards Davy Thompson and Chris Schofield, with out-half Paul Blewitt converting with a well struck kick. Ten minutes later a deliberate knock on by the Portadown winger short of his line denied the Dee a certain try. From the resultant penalty Donaghadee opted for a scrum. Number 8 Thompson picked up and drove towards the line, with prop Richard Nelson securing the touch down and Blewitt adding the extras for a 10 – 0 lead.
With the Dee team controlling both possession and territory, their winger Rory Garnham was denied a further try. Within minutes however Donaghadee scored an excellent try – started in their own half, and involving Rory Garnham, Gavin Gordon, Marty Coulter, Davy Thompson and Bobby Harper, before being finished off by flanker Chris Hamilton underneath the posts, for Blewitt to add the points. A terrific break by prop Chris Schofield soon followed, only for a knock-on to deny the Dee another score.
A third try followed after a period of Donaghadee pressure, with both forwards and backs demonstrating their handling skills to allow second row Marty Coulter to score a try with Blewitt again adding the points. After thirty minutes Portadown, in their first intrusion into the Dee half, turned down a kickable penalty to instead opt for a lineout on the Dee twenty-two. The well organised Dee defence turned-over ball, with scrum-half Jamie Cardwell clearing the ball to the halfway line with a superb clearance kick. The resultant Portadown kick was superbly gathered by the Dee full-back Stevie Marshall on his own twenty-two. With the strong running winger Rory Garnham hungry for ball alongside Marshall, they carved open the Portadown cover with forwards and backs joining in to put centre Bobby Harper through for another excellent try, again converted by Blewitt, to increase the Dee lead to 31-0. Donaghadee were denied a further try, when Harper made a terrific break before off-loading to the supporting Chris Hamilton. Hamilton managed to force his way to the line, only to knock on as he tried to touch down. The relentless Dee forwards regained possession, and drove Portadown back twenty metres from a scrum. Second row Kyle Morrow’s attempt to drive over and touch down for a further try was held up by the Portadown defence on the line. The half time whistle sounded much to the relief of the Portadown team who had endured a tortuous forty minutes.
With the slope in their favour for the second half, the Dee team scored from the re-start, with second row Marty Coulter catching Blewitt’s kick off, and charging directly at the heart of the Portadown cover. The ball was quickly recycled for flanker Stuart Hutchison to touch down for a try. Blewitt was for once unable to add the points.
With Dee coaches Ian Martindale and Jimmy McCoy urging on their team, fullback Stevie Marshall once again showed his footballing skills; making a terrific break to put flying winger Rory Garnham in for the team’s sixth try. Blewitt was unable to convert the difficult touch line conversion. With the Dee forwards completely dominant, veteran Dee out-half Paul Blewitt was continuing to create space and opportunities for his runners. He set up the seventh try, creating space for his second row Marty Coulter to storm over in the corner; however again faced with a difficult kick he was unable to add further points.
With his team in the ascendancy, Martindale replaced hooker Gareth Gordon and number 8 Davy Thompson, with Paul Hamilton and Patrick Quinn. Both replacements were soon creating opportunities that resulted in a superb try being finished off by centre Gavin Gordon, after good work once again by the forwards. Blewitt was unable to add the points. Over eagerness and some poor handling cost Donaghadee some potential scores as they pushed for further points. Another searing break by Schofield was denied a try by a knock on. Despite the best efforts of the Portadown team who continued to attempt to play rugby they continued to struggle in both the scrum and line-out against the strong Dee forwards. Try number nine followed and was richly deserved by full back Stevie Marshall - joining his back line to sell an outrageous dummy to the Portadown cover and evade several would be tacklers to score at the posts, with Blewitt adding the points. The final try followed shortly afterwards, with second row Kyle Morrow setting up good ball for out half Paul Blewitt to put a superbly executed kick in behind the Portadown defence for the flying centre Gavin Gordon to touch down behind the posts; Blewitt adding the points to complete their scoring. With ten minutes remaining, both captains agreed to the final whistle being blown early, leaving the Dee comfortable winners.
Referee Johnny Erskine deserves to be mentioned for the manner in which he handled this fixture. In all he awarded only ten penalties throughout the match, and his officiating contributed to a highly entertaining game for both players and spectators. With the new rule changes we have had introduced this season, we have witnessed an average of twenty plus penalties being awarded per match. These frequent stoppages do little to promote the open running game of rugby we all desire, and it is therefore worth highlighting when a referee has contributed to a free-flowing game that players and spectators alike can enjoy.
With Donaghadee Rugby Club 1st XV finishing runners-up to Ballynahinch 2nd XV in group D, they will qualify for the quarter finals of the Junior Cup. Their opponents will be the winners of Group A - Clogher Valley - away on Saturday 19th December.
Despite missing several players through injury and unavailability, Donaghadee’s strength in depth in the first team squad will again be tested, as they now revert to their push for promotion as they travel to Drumahoe next Saturday for a crucial league match away to Londonderry YMCA. Players are reminded of the importance of attending training as the team continue their pursuit of league and cup honours in the coming weeks and months.
Donaghadee 1st XV was: Chris Schofield, Gareth Gordon, Richard Nelson, Martin Coulter, Kyle Morrow, Stuart Hutchison. Chris Hamilton, David Thompson (capt.); Jamie Cardwell, Paul Blewitt, Rory Garnham, Bobby Harper, Gavin Gordon, Marcus Gibson, Stephen Marshall. Replacements: Paul Hamilton, Patrick Quinn.
Saturday 5th December – Fixtures:
Qualifying League 2 - Donaghadee 1st XV v Londonderry YMCA 1st XV (away), kick off 2.30pm. A Coach has been arranged for this trip; supporters wishing to travel should contact David Monson or Jim Lyttle.
Donaghadee 2nd XV v Coleraine 3rd XV (Donaldson Park) - 2.30pm