Larne Grammar booked their spot in the Danske Bank Medallion Bowl semi-final with a narrow 17-15 win over Limavady Grammar on Saturday.
Overnight rain had affected Limavady’s pitch. It was certainly sticky in patches, and the underfoot conditions made any hope of an expansive game a tricky proposition.
The first few phases of play were punctuated by handling errors, which didn’t allow any real pattern to develop as the two teams sized each other up.
Strong defending from Larne around the halfway line eventually led to a turnover in midfield. The ball was quickly transferred to left-wing Luke Butler who had the pace to exploit the overlap, go round his opposite number and slide in beside the posts. His score was easily converted to give Larne a 7-0 lead with just five minutes gone.
The following 15 minutes were spent largely in the Larne half with the boys defending extremely well against a heavier Limavady pack, who used their maul very effectively and were even held up over the line on one occasion.
The pressure told in the final stages of the half with a Limavady winger crashing over for an unconverted score.
Larne’s half-time team talk focused on the breakdown where the visitors had been sloppy, conceding possession on a number of occasions when in good positions. This paid dividends 20 minutes into the second session when a penalty was kicked to the Limavady 10-metre line. The resulting line-out ball was spread to the centre of the park where number eight Burke was waiting. He set off on a trademark mazy run which resulted in him scoring under the posts. The successful conversion left the score 14-5 in Larne’s favour.
From the restart the fired-up Limavady team took the game to Larne and their prominent ball carriers came to the fore. They claimed a quick, unconverted score to close the gap to just four points.
In the last five minutes a missed tackle in the Larne 22 allowed Limavady in for another try. With the scoreboard now reading 15-14 in the home team’s favour, it was looking like it would be a long journey home for Larne.
But after a straightforward conversion attempt was missed, Larne pressed Limavady back into their 22 where a knock-on gave them possession and a penalty. Larne had the chance to salvage the game.
Burke stepped up and from just outside the Limavady 22, he split the posts to give his side a 17-15 lead with three minutes left.
A few nervy minutes followed, but the Larne boys finished the game in the Limavady half and secured their passage into the semi-final.
The draw for the last four has yet to be made, but the team is looking forward to the next game.
Former Ulster and current Academy Schools’ coach Brian McLaughlin was set to take a training session with the team on Wednesday.