Bonus point frustration continues against Dungannon
By Roger Corbett
Bangor’s run of narrow defeats continued with a 17-22 defeat by AIL 2B side Dungannon in the SONI Premiership.
The awful conditions of the previous two weekends were thankfully a thing of the past, with just an occasional gust of wind playing across the pitch. Once again the utilities team had worked their magic on the playing surface, so conditions were good underfoot. Bangor coach Mike Ferguson used this game to rest some of the more familiar starting fifteen players, with himself, Mike Weir, James Leary, Andrew Shaw, Nathan Graham, Liam Preston and Desi Fusco missing from the line-up. This provided openings for Charlie Clegg at prop, Andrew Jackson at hooker, Matt Nesbitt in the second row, Ethan Murray at wing forward, Lewis Brett on the wing and Shaun Fair at scrum half. David Bradford captained the side as he continued his steady return to form and fitness after last season’s serious leg injury. With both sides suffering some poor results in the AIL, this premiership game would provide an opportunity to play without pressure, and return to their earlier, more promising performances.
As Dungannon got the game underway, it was good to see the Bangor players get into gear straight away, with sold running and good retention. By contrast with some recent performances, Bangor looked to be wanting to use a more even balance between forwards and backs. The centre partnership of Adam Alexander and Phil Broderick produced some good line breaks, and when their progress was halted, they were well supported by the forwards who rucked and recycled the ball. The first 10 minutes of the game belonged to the home side, as Dungannon struggled to find any purposeful possession. Another break by Broderick, this time down the left wing, saw him get close to scoring, but as he was closed down the support was there to regroup and go again. It was perhaps fitting that a Phil Whyte, a former Dungannon player, was on hand to finish off the forward drive and score against his old club. The blustering wind pushed Oscar Yandall’s conversion attempt wide, but it was good to see Bangor on the scoreboard by 5-0.
This score appeared to galvanise the Dungannon side and they restarted with more determination. It was now Bangor who were having to defend as the Tyrone men got into their rhythm, and within 5 minutes their sustained pressure resulted in a strong run by centre Andrew Weir who barged through the Bangor tackles to score close to the Bangor posts. John Buckley added the simple conversion to put Dungannon ahead by 5-7.
The Dungannon backline was now starting to look dangerous and, when they intercepted a poor Bangor pass, it looked like they would score again. As they broke clear, the ball was kicked over the Bangor defence and towards the goal line. Thankfully for Bangor, Declan Maguire covered back well, dropped down on the ball, then got back up and cleared the danger with a good kick to touch. However, the danger wasn’t completely gone as Dungannon won the lineout and pushed forward again, forcing a penalty in front of Bangor’s posts. Buckley made no mistake with his kick, and Dungannon were now ahead by 5-10.
Undeterred, Bangor picked themselves up and took the game back to Dungannon. While on the attack again, a speculative box kick from the back of a ruck was charged down, and then kicked through by Dungannon. Once again the chase was on as Bangor scurried back to cover the danger. As the defence assembled, it looked like the options for Dungannon were disappearing. They had little option but to kick the ball forward again towards the Bangor line and hope their chase was better than Bangor’s. Although clearly in front of his kicker, the Dungannon second row forward charged forward with the advantage of a couple of yards head start, collected the ball and touched down for an unlikely try under the posts. The conversion stretched Dungannon’s half time lead to 5-17, which somewhat flattered the visitors.
As Bangor got the second half underway, the curse of leaking tries either side of half time struck again. The difference with this try, however, was that it was well worked and simply converted. Having received the kick-off, Dungannon brought play back into Bangor’s half. Quick ball at a ruck on the right hand side was swung across the backs with accuracy and speed, releasing their winger who had the pace and space to run around the stretched Bangor defence and score in the left hand corner. Although the kick was missed this time, Dungannon were even further ahead at 5-22, with things now looking bleak for Bangor.
However, Bangor have shown many times that they can be at their most dangerous when they fall behind in this manner. With 14 minutes of the second half gone, the Bangor backs managed to slip their tacklers and a couple of passes later the ball was in the hands of Mark Widdowson, playing on the left wing. Having shrugged off the final tackle, he set off from his own 10 metre line and down the touchline. It looked touch and go as to whether he would outrun his opposite number but as he was within a couple of metres of scoring, the tackle came in around his neck, pulling him down awkwardly and denying the score. Although a cry went up from players and spectators alike, the referee let play continue with advantage to Bangor. Thankfully, there was support for Widdowson and the ball was successfully recycled for David Bradford to crash over for the try, albeit in the corner. Yandall’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful, but at least Bangor had stopped the rot and were now 10-22 behind, with 25 minutes remaining.
The penalty count against Dungannon mounted as play continued. From one such infringement, Liam Preston, having come off the bench, took a quick tap and broke through the centre. Having capitalised on Dungannon’s unprepared defence, he passed inside to Charlie Blair, another bench replacement. Drawing two Dungannon defenders, he just managed to off-load to Bradford before being engulfed in the tackle. With just 7 or 8 metres to go, Bradford made no mistake and touched down at the post for a converted try, making the score now 17-22, with just 5 minutes remaining. Having eventually had one of their second row players yellow carded for a dangerous tackle, Dungannon were now on the ropes, and desperately having to defend. Using whatever means they could, the Dungannon pack knuckled down and frustrated Bangor as they dug in on their own 5 metre line. Despite Bangor’s efforts, the big Dungannon men found enough energy to hold on until the referee indicated the final play, and the ball was duly kicked into touch.
Although Bangor earned another losing bonus point, it is disappointing again to have missed out on the win. Another disappointment is the injury to James Henly that could possibly side-line him for several weeks. On a more positive note, there is much to applaud with Bangor’s game, but they will be looking to find that little extra that makes the difference between scoring when in the opposition twenty two, and coming away with nothing. However, it was good to see the team as a whole gel together in a relatively unfamiliar starting line-up. With the anticipated return of many regular first team players over the next few weeks, the squad remains strong and will be looking for an improvement in results when the second half of the AIL resumes in January. In the meantime, Bangor’s next game is another SONI Premiership fixture, this time away to Omagh. This should be an interesting encounter as the two sides meet again a few weeks later in the AIL.
Finally, a big thanks to everybody who has supported the club and players in 2018, and we wish everybody associated with Bangor Rugby Club a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.