Larne Rugby Club’s 1st XV travelled to Newforge Lane on Saturday where they ran out 55-12 winners against PSNI.
“This wasn’t a bad team performance by Larne,” said skipper, James McCluggage. “After a slow start, some of the tries scored were a real 15-man effort. In the pack, Smyth and Jamison had a superb games. Smyth used his pace and jinky side-step to add firepower to the backline, with Jamison sound in defence all day.
“McIlheron and Montgomery look to be forming an effective centre partnership and Burns looks a real threat every time he touches the ball on the wing. The team know they have a lot to work on before their semi-final on Saturday at Letterkenny.”
Larne made numerous changes from the side that had defeated Lurgan the week before. There was a welcome return for captain McCluggage, as well as McWhirter, C. McKinty, Hunter and McBride.
The game kicked off in blustery conditions, however the pitch was superb and suited the brand of running rugby Larne wanted to play.
PSNI, however, had different ideas. They defended heroically in the first 10 minutes, disrupting the play and causing the visitors to give away penalties.
The Larne set-piece was dominant, with Crampsey taking charge at the line-out, while the visitors’ front eight dominated at scrum time.
This gave clean ball to Garrett who was able to get his backline ignited. As the game progressed the centre partnership of McIlheron and Montgomery was becoming more prominent. And it wasn’t long until Larne crossed the whitewash with Nick Kelso doing the honours.
Larne were on the scoresheet again soon after when Stuart Smyth hit another beautiful line in the centre to dot down under the sticks.
But as Larne tried to gain momentum the PSNI were a continual thorn in their side. Their scrum-half was a continual threat, sniping at every opportunity. His box-kicking was also effective and eased his team’s pressure.
As Larne moved play upfield courtesy of runs from Smyth and Garrett, the ball was spread wide to McCluggage who bulldozed his way over in the corner for a score.
However, PSNI heads still did not drop. Larne ill-discipline saw the home side break into the Larne 22. As they won their lineout, their scrum-half broke through for a well-deserved score under the sticks.
PSNI tails were up and continued to attack. As they broke from a scrum in their own half, they attacked deep into the Larne 22 but a fortunate knock-on relieved the pressure on McCluggage’s men.
Larne then had a scrum on their own five-metre line and they decided to run the ball. It was spread wide to the galloping Jordan Burns. As the ball was offloaded between forwards and backs, Colin McKinty raced for the line just inside the PSNI half. With the full-back to beat, he fended him off to go over in the corner for a score.
It was the turning point in the game, with PSNI heads beginning to drop.
At half-time coach Laurence Kelly warned of complacency and warned positions were not secure for this weekend’s Gordon West semi-final.
Larne stepped it up a gear after the break and began to run the ball from everywhere. They scored two consecutive tries from restarts.
The backs were cutting holes and Kelso and Burns were getting the ball out on the wings and making continual yardage.
There were quick scores for Burns, Andrews and McBride. As the PSNI broke into the Larne half for the first time in the second half, they scored through a series of rucks and mauls.
Larne were annoyed at conceding a second and they were on the scoresheet soon after.
Garrett took a quick penalty from inside his own half to dance his way through the PSNI defence, landing a well-taken try.
Larne finished the game with another well-worked team score. As the ball was spread wide, Colin McKinty broke through and galloped up the pitch to be ably supported by Kelso who dived over for his second of the day.
With slightly over 10 minutes remaining, the referee blew up early much to both teams’ delight as they got home to watch Ireland defeat France and clinch the Six Nations title.
Larne: McCluggage (c), Smyth, McWhirter, Crampsey, McKinty, Thomas, Jamison, Hunter, Garrett, Andrews, Burns, McIlheron, Montgomery, Kelso, McBride.