Bangor 2nds exit Town Cup at Dungannon
Bangor 2nds put up a good fight against Dungannon 2nds in the opening round of the Towns Cup, but were narrowly beaten by 29-20.
Cold, crisp and wind free conditions combined with a firm pitch greeted the players as they ran out at Stevenson Park. Previous encounters between these two clubs, whether it’s featuring the 1sts or 2nds, has always produced close matches. Having suffered a narrow home defeat against Dungannon 1sts in the SONI Premiership, it was hoped that the 2nds could redress the balance and start on a successful Towns Cup campaign. The starting fifteen looked strong, with the most notable addition being that of Gareth Millar, playing his first game for Bangor after having been side-lined for over a year through injury. Dungannon also had players returning and this game was partly to help prepare them for their return to the senior side.
Dungannon kicked off and a well-received ball saw the visitors go on an early offensive. In fact, for most of the opening 6 minutes, play was kept within the Dungannon half. The Bangor scrum was working well, pushing their opposite number back, despite being out-weighed by the big Tyrone men, and the backs were running and passing with confidence. It was therefore something of a shock that when Dungannon mounted their first real attack of the game, they came away with the opening try. Having worked their way into Bangor’s twenty two, Dungannon’s accurate chip over the defence was gathered on the bounce giving a clear run through to touch down in the right hand corner.
Having gone behind against the run of play, Bangor knuckled down and continued pressing forward. Sustained pressure and patient play eventually provided the overlap Bangor needed to give Ned Stewart the space to score out on the right wing. Gareth Millar’s difficult conversion attempt from the touchline was wide of the posts, but with Dungannon also having missed their earlier conversion, the sides were now level at 5-5 with 13 minutes played.
10 minutes later, Dungannon were down to 14 men after receiving a yellow card for repeatedly being penalised close to their own line. With the extra man advantage, Bangor opted for the 5 metre scrum. Their superiority in this area was obvious again, as Mike Weir picked up from the back and charged for the line. Although stopped short, he got the ball back to his supporting forwards. After another couple of drives for the line, Bangor switched their attack to the backs and, having quickly taken play across to the left wing, the ball came to Jamie Mendez who got the ball down in the left hand corner. A great kick by Millar saw the conversion go over, putting Bangor deservedly ahead by 5-12.
The game now entered a period of see-saw rugby. First it was Dungannon who, despite still being a forward down, drove Bangor back into their twenty two before getting the ball to their backs who ran through for another unconverted try. Then, just 3 minutes later, a great move started by Ned Stewart, who received a high ball inside his own twenty two, developed into a determined counter attack which was nicely finished with some surprisingly delicate interplay between front row forwards Ben Worthington and Charlie Clegg, with Clegg finishing off the move by crashing over from 5 metres out, making the score now 10-17. However, almost by return, Dungannon regained the ball from the restart and within minutes had crossed the line again to bring them within 2 points of Bangor at 15-17. With the half time whistle now imminent, Bangor seemed to switch off and their poor tackling as one of the big Dungannon forwards ran at them proved costly as he barged through for a relatively soft try close to the posts. With the added conversion, the referee blew for half time and Dungannon had sneaked into the lead by 22-17.
Within 2 minutes of Bangor getting the second half underway, Millar converted a penalty to narrow the gap to 22-20. By way of response, Dungannon lifted their tempo and kept Bangor pinned down inside their own half. Having dominated the line-outs in the first half, and with Bangor obviously struggling in this area, Dungannon cleverly kicked for touch on several occasions, reckoning they had a good chance of regaining possession. This ploy seemed to work, but Bangor’s defence managed to keep the Dungannon attacks at bay. Now it was the home side that were enjoying most of the play and attacks, but were unable to add to their score. Meanwhile, Bangor just needed that one break or penalty that could have allowed them to snatch the victory. However, after 30 minutes of stalemate the referee, aided by considerable vocal encouragement from the touchline, showed the yellow card to Andrew Jackson for a dubious high tackle. With Jackson now unlikely to return to the field off play, Bangor were up against it. However, to Bangor’s credit, they lifted themselves and at times looked like they might make the breakthrough. Having won a penalty inside their own twenty two, but with the referee signalling the final play, Bangor had no option but to run the ball. For a moment it looked like they might find space on the wing that would give them a chance. However, the ball went to ground, was then kicked through by a Dungannon boot, and followed up for an easy touchdown. The conversion brought the final score to 29-20, and it was the home side that now moved into the next round of the competition.
This was another entertaining and exciting game played between two closely matched sides. While Bangor will be disappointed not to have come away with the victory, there was much in their play that would give encouragement and confidence as they embark on the second half of their league campaign next weekend, away to Ballyclare.