Bangor’s run of poor results had meant that as the closing stages of the league campaign draw to a close, every game takes on added urgency. At the start of the year, Bangor were sitting with a relatively comfortable cushion of points ahead of the teams at the foot of the league table, but Division 2C continues to throw up results that wouldn’t necessarily conform to the form book. In so doing, Tullamore have slowly clawed their way up and were only a point behind Bangor before this fixture. A good result was therefore vital if Bangor were to avoid slipping down another league position and into less comfortable territory. Although the wet and windy weather would make playing conditions challenging, Bangor were hoping that with another strong starting fifteen they would be able to continue the positive momentum from last week’s game at Bruff.
Having won the toss, Bangor chose to play into the wind in the first half, giving Tullamore the opening kick-off. Things started well for Bangor, gathering the ball and moving steadily into the Tullamore half. However, some great rucking by the Tullamore forwards won them possession and then sensible use of the boot returned play deep inside Bangor’s twenty two. Although Bangor won their line-out, their attempts to play themselves out of danger led to a mistake that eventually led to a Tullamore penalty just to the right of Bangor’s posts. Karl Dunne stepped up and slotted home the kick to give the visitors the opening score. Shortly afterwards, having again used the wind to take play deep into Bangor’s twenty two, Tullamore were awarded another penalty, but Dunne’s kick was pushed wide this time. With alarming regularity, Tullamore’s next attack yielded yet another penalty which this time was successfully converted to double their lead to 0-6 after 23 minutes of play.
Just 5 minutes later, it was Bangor who won a penalty after Tullamore were found to be off their feet at a ruck. Given that this offence took place outside the Tullamore twenty two, and with no respite in the prevailing wind, it was something of a surprise that Bangor chose to kick for goal instead of going for touch towards the corner. Unsurprisingly, Mark Widdowson’s kick fell well short of the posts and, by complete contrast, the long clearance kick by Tullamore took play back inside Bangor’s half, relieving the brief period of danger.
Although some of Tullamore’s rucking had been well-executed, there were quite a few times when their methods were less technically correct. Eventually the referee decided this had been happening too often and showed the yellow card to a Tullamore forward. With just a few minutes of the first half remaining, Bangor opted for the penalty scrum, hoping to capitalise on the depleted Tullamore pack. Although the scrum was won cleanly, the subsequent phases of attack came to nothing, leaving the score at 0-6 at half time.
With just 6 points to make up, and now with the wind at their backs, Bangor knew that a good start to the second half would be vital. However, their kick-off couldn’t have been worse. Even with the wind’s assistance, the ball didn’t travel the necessary 10 metres, and Tullamore had the scrum back on the half way mark. From this scrum, a good kick to touch brought play deep into Bangor’s half, and instead of being on the attack, Bangor were now forced to defend again. Then, in an attempt to intercept a Tullamore pass, Adam Alexander was judged to have deliberately knocked-on the ball, and was shown the yellow card as a result. From the resulting penalty, Dunne kept his kick low and added three more points to extend Tullamore’s lead to 0-9 after just 3 minutes of the start of the second half.
This prompted Bangor to take their game up a gear, and saw them enjoy long periods of possession and attack. However, it wasn’t until a further 26 minutes has elapsed before they could make this pressure count. An attack down the left hand side was illegally disrupted by Tullamore who received another yellow card for their efforts. Bangor chose the penalty scrum, from which David Bradford picked up and drove through the Tullamore defence before stretching over the line for a try. Widdowson’s conversion attempt fell wide of the posts, but Bangor were back in the game at 5-9, with just 10 minutes left to play.
As the clock ticked away, it was beginning to look like Bangor might have to settle for a losing bonus point. However, with the last play of the game, Tullamore’s patience when camped inside Bangor’s twenty two finally paid off when Sean Rigney found just enough space to dive over and score the try that confirmed his side’s victory and left Bangor empty-handed. Dunne’s added conversion brought the final score to 5-16.
This was another disappointing performance by a side that has the talent and strength to do better. Once again, Bangor were guilty of not making the best use of the wind, which actually wasn’t giving as much advantage as it was for Tullamore in the first half. Their attacks were slow, laboured and, at times, lacking in imagination, allowing the opposition to set their defence accordingly. It is also becoming obvious that Bangor need to become a lot more ‘streetwise’. It’s been said many times that Bangor feel they don’t get the always get the best refereeing decisions, but equally it has been noted that opposition sides play close to the limits of legal play, and sometimes beyond them, until such times that they are pulled up the referee. The same goes for team management on the touchline. Compliance with ‘technical areas’ seems to be discretionary, with coaches going on to the pitch to give advice and direction, especially when under attack. The Bangor players and team management need to acknowledge this in order to not only counter these ploys, but use them to their own advantage in this season’s remaining league games. Bangor will want to make sure their survival rests in their own hands, and not in the misfortunes of their rivals, beginning next Saturday when they travel to City of Derry looking to repeat their previous success when the two sides met at Upritchard Park.