It may not have been a repeat of the 99-0 win Larne 1st XV bagged against Letterkenny earlier this season but they got the job done in Donegal with a 22-13 victory on Saturday.
The men in red knew their opponents would be a much-changed side from the one they trounced a few months back.
There were numerous changes to the Larne side due to work commitments and injuries. Derek Lough, Colin McKinty and Mark McIlheron came in to the pack. In the backline Phil Andrews and Chris Moore came in to the team.
In fantastic playing conditions the visitors kicked off against a big Letterkenny pack. From the start Larne looked to move the ball wide and they made good ground through Hunter and McKinty early on.
Line-outs and scrums were working well and the visitors were in the ascendency for the first 10 minutes. Letterkenny tried to kick the ball deep but Garrett was more than capable to clear up and hit straight back on the counter attack.
Larne were first on the score board first when McBride hit a beautiful cross field kick for Burns to catch. The big centre continued to run up the wing, beat two defenders and run under the posts for a superb individual effort which Andrews converted.
With their tails up, Larne continued to attack. They scored a second when McAlister and Moore made good yards up the right wing to pass to Garrett who rounded a few defenders to score under the sticks. Andrews converted.
But Larne’s intensity dropped and they gave away numerous penalties, allowing Letterkenny to gain territory and it was almost inevitable when a close range penalty was slotted over for three points.
The Donegal team gained momentum and continued to attack the Larne defensive line and only some superb play from Mark McIlheron thwarted a scoring opportunity.
As the half progressed aimless kicking by the men in red allowed Letterkenny an easy way in to the game. As they continued to attack the turning point came when McCluggage and Jamison went in to make a tackle only to clash into each other. McCluggage came off worst and that was his afternoon of rugby over.
With numerical superiority, Letterkenny broke through and spread the ball wide to their winger who ran in to the corner for a score. The conversion was missed which meant Larne led 14-8 at the interval.
The second-half started with a much higher tempo from both sides with a much-improved defence working tirelessly to hold back the determined Letterkenny attack.
The 14 Larne men redoubled their efforts and were rewarded when scrum-half Ricky McIlheron dummy-passed and went through a gap to offload to number eight Eddie Hunter who sent the ball wide through the hands to winger Chris Moore who showed great pace in outstripping the scrambling Letterkenny defence to touch down for Larne’s third try of the day. The try was unconverted.
Larne men continued to defend their lead but were caught out in the final minutes when a loose pass in the 22 was pounced upon by the Donegal side who recycled the ball quickly to score the final try of the game. The game finished 22-13 much to the relief of Laurence Kelly’s battling side.
Skipper McCluggage commented: “It was a dogged display with only 14 men for the second-half. Letterkenny is never an easy place to get a victory so we should be pleased they won by such a large margin.
We now have a free weekend to rest before taking on Lurgan at home on Saturday, December 14.
Larne: J McCluggage (capt), R McAlister, D Lough, M Crapsey, C McKinty, G Jamison, M McIlheron, E Hunter, R McIlheron, P Andrews, M Agnew, A McBride, J Burns, C Moore, R Garrett.