No bonus at Bruff
By Roger Corbett
Bangor produced an improved performance from last week, but still failed to add to their league points tally, finally losing at Bruff by 25-11.
Having lost to the bottom placed team last weekend, all but the most optimistic had thoughts of a positive outcome against the third placed team, some 16 points ahead of them. However, with only minor changes to the starting line-up, the coaches were keeping faith with their players who they knew were capable of winning games like this. Playing conditions were great - despite having had rain earlier in the week, the pitch was firm with blue skies above. There was a breeze blowing diagonally across the pitch and slightly in the faces of Bangor who got the game underway.
In a fairly even handed start, both sides appeared to settle quickly, but it was the home side who made the first telling move of the game. As Bruff pushed forward and Bangor were forced to defend, Phil Whyte took a hard knock and had to receive attention. As play continued without him, Bruff saw that the Bangor defensive line was now stretched and a perfectly weighted kick into the corner was collected by winger Cian Clifford who then dived over for a well-taken try in the right hand corner. The tricky kick was missed, but Bruff were first on the scoreboard by 5-0 after 8 minutes of play.
As usual, the Bangor scrum had looked in top form and had already shown its power and control in earlier set pieces. However, on Bruff's first put-in at the scrum, the referee considered that Bangor were driving in and awarded Bruff a penalty. This appears to be a growing trend for sides that have to face Bangor's pack, and is something that will obviously need to be handled in a better way in the remaining games. Despite being pushed back once again into their own twenty two from the long kick to touch, Bangor defended well and seemed to have weathered the immediate storm. However, a rash high tackle when in front of their own posts cost Bangor another penalty, from which Bruff kicker Kevin McManus slotted home the kick to extend his side's lead to 8-0 by the end of the opening quarter.
Bangor responded well, and started to produce some much better running moves. One of these came to an abrupt halt when the Bruff scrum half's desperate attempt to intercept a pass constituted a deliberate knock-on, from which Bangor won a penalty and he was shown the yellow card. Bangor used this to advance further into Bruff territory and looked determined to make the extra man advantage count. However, another promising attack came to nothing by an illegal Bruff tackle. As Bangor were within kicking range, Gareth Millar took the 3 points on offer to get his side on the scoreboard at 8-3, with 29 minutes of the first half gone.
Within 5 minutes, Bruff had struck again. One could be forgiven for thinking that the Munster side were taking guidance from the English national side, as they produced an almost identical try to their first by chipping into space in the right hand corner before collecting the ball and scoring. The only difference now was that the difficult conversion was successful, stretching Bruff's lead to 15-3.
Once again, Bangor knew they had to score before half time to give them a realistic chance in the second half. They got their chance in the final minute of the first half when a period of sustained pressure earned then a 5 metre penalty on the left hand side. Spurning the option of kicking for goal, Liam Preston took the tap penalty and set up a forward drive. A couple of surges later, it was Lewis Stevenson who had the power to twist and push over for a deserved try. Millar's conversion attempt was unsuccessful, but at least the half time score was a more respectable 15-8, and everything to play for in the second.
Unfortunately, another Bangor error yielded a straightforward penalty kick which David O'Grady duly converted to put Bruff 18-8 ahead after just a few minutes of the restart. This penalty was quickly cancelled out when Bruff collapsed a scum, giving Millar a penalty which was kicked to restore the significant 7 point deficit.
Bangor looked to be holding their own and hopes were that they could at least come away with a losing bonus point. However, a yellow card for Mike Ferguson for what was deemed to be another deliberate knock-on swung the balance in the forward battles. Within 4 minutes of Ferguson's departure, Bruff were pushing forward when one of their wing forwards suffered an injury which stopped play for several minutes. From the scrum restart, Bangor's previously secure defence missed a vital tackle allowing the Bruff second row forward Neilus Keogh to burst through and score close to the posts. O'Grady added the extras to bring the score to 25-11.
Although hopes of a Bangor win were looking remote now, the feeling on the touchline was that a losing bonus point was still within reach. This looked to be on the cards when Mike Weir made a determined break through the centre, shrugging off tackles before making the pass to Jamie Clegg, who also had Lewis Stevenson in close support. With the goal line beckoning, it looked like Bangor were in for a converted try. However, the ball agonisingly bobbled out of Clegg's grasp and the chance was gone. Despite this setback, Bangor continued to push forward, but Bruff's superior defensive record proved difficult to overcome, and the home side managed to play out the remainder of the game without any change to the scoreboard.
Any defeat is a disappointment, but there should be some comfort for the Bangor coaching staff in how their players responded to their previous weekend's poor performance. While there is still plenty to be improved upon, including their high penalty count and ball handling errors, this game should give a real sense of optimism ahead of another vital home fixture against Tullamore next Saturday. Given the distance to Bruff, it's understandable that there was only a small travelling party. However, there should be no excuse for not having a big turn-out at Upritchard Park to urge on our players as they look to return to winning ways and ease the pressure on their twitchy mid-table league position.