Larne’s 1st XV travelled to Newry on Saturday where they continued their Qualifying 3 League winning form with a 23-10 success.
There were numerous changes to the Larne team from the side that beat Donegal due to injuries, illness and work commitments. Derek Lough, Johnny McKinty and Gareth Jamison came in to the pack, with Aaron McBride lining up among the backs.
The Larne men knew that with the conditions underfoot so soft that it would be very difficult to play the running brand of rugby that they have tried to play all season. However, from the very onset they tried their upmost. Ricky McIlheron and James McCluggage, made a break up the blindside in the first minute moving play in to the Newry half. As Laurence Kelly’s side started to pass the ball a great offload by Garrett allowed Thomas to break free. He rampaged up the wing and passed inside to Garrett who remained in support. The full-back used his pace to run in for a score which Philip Andrews converted. From the restart a Newry error allowed the visitors back in their half. As they continued to attack, the pressure was too much for Newry and a penalty in front of the posts was slotted over by Andrews. Inside 10 minutes, Larne were 10 points in front.
As Larne continued to pile on the pressure, they again they gave away an unfortunate penalty which allowed Newry to clear. This seemed to be a real turning point in the match spurring Newry in to top gear.
The home side’s pack began to dominate and camped themselves in the opposition’s half. At scrum time they gave Larne a torrid time. The pressure finally took its toll with Newry awarded a penalty-try for a wheeled scrum.
Newry were awarded another penalty for Larne going off their feet at the ruck and their out-half landed a long-range penalty.
As Newry continued to attack at the end of the first-half, Larne defended ferociously moving their opposition back metres at every phase. As they spread the ball wide the ball bobbled free and Andrews hacked it on.
The Larne backline pursued with Garrett dribbling up half the pitch to score a superb try with superb footballing skills.
Before the stroke of half-time the visitors were awarded another penalty which Andrews slotted over to make it 18-10 to Larne.
At half time the Larne men knew they were in the ascendency with the wind in their favour for the second half.
Early in the second session Newry found themselves down to 14 men when their prop was sent off for a second yellow card. As the rain began to fall the pitch became even worse underfoot. Andrews moved to the wing and McBride started to dictate things at out-half, kicking the ball deep into the Newry half.
As the home side failed to clear their lines their defence was stretched. McBride looked up and hit a beautiful cross-field kick for Phil Andrews to bounce on a score.
Larne looked to be looked in the clear, but their concentration and discipline dropped off again. Within a matter of minutes they were reduced to 13 men with Gareth Jamison and Ian McIlheron both yellow-carded.
With the men in red at a numerical disadvantage they grabbed the bull by the horns and did not allow the Newry side to break through. Mark McIlheron and Gary Mills were prevalent in defence thwarting back any attacker that came their way.
As Larne got back to full strength, the game became very scrappy with handling errors. Scrum-half McIlheron was becoming increasingly frustrated with his pack with the lack of clean ball to ignite his backline.
As the game progressed Larne continued to attack, however could not cross the whitewash.
Said skipper, James McCluggage: “ It was an average performance by Larne in what is a difficult place to get a result. Those new faces in the squad did well which shows the strength and depth the club has this season. The pack know they have to work on their line-outs and scrums before their next fixture. However, with no fixture this weekend, players with bumps and niggles can get a well-earned rest.”
Larne: D Lough, R McAllister, C Rea, C McKinty, J McKinty, G Jamison, M McIlheron, J McCluggage (Capt), R McIlheron, P Andrews, G Mills, I McIlheron, A McBride, R Thomas, R Garrett.