ERGS 1st XV 83

Portadown College 1st XV 0

Enniskillen Royal Grammar School opened up their Schools’ Cup campaign on Saturday with a comprehensive victory over Portadown College at Eisenhower Playing Fields.

The home side ran in 13 tries in all as they began the new competition format on a positive note.

Under the new system, the Tier 1 teams, (Methody, Campbell, Wallace, Ballymena, RBAI and Armagh), sit out the Pool Stages. The remaining schools are divided into six pools of four, with the pool winners and four best runners-up progressing to join the Tier 1 teams to form the last 16 in the knock-out stage after Christmas.

ERGS remaining group stage games see them host Dungannon on November 16 before an away game against Larne on December 7.

Although Portadown have had comfortable wins over Rainey Endowed and Belfast High School this season it was clear from the first few minutes of this match that there was a considerable gulf in class between these two teams. ERGS played with a level of speed, accuracy and intensity that simply overwhelmed the visitors. While Royal’s supporters enjoyed a game of fast flowing rugby, the Portadown supporters and players must have been relieved when the Ulster Branch referee, Harry Wilkinson-Roberts, with the agreement of both coaches, blew the final whistle 10 minutes before the designated time with the score at ERGS 83, Portadown 0 !

ERGS opened the scoring when Callum Smyton broke from the back of a scrum and fed his scrum-half, Matthew Bothwell, sitting wide. Bothwell threw a well-timed pass to Sam Balfour and the winger stepped inside the Portadown full-back to score a deceptively simple try. The next ERGS try was typical of many to follow.

They caught the Portadown restart, set up a ruck and spun the ball wide through forwards and backs. From a second ruck, Bothwell zipped the ball to the front row of Aaron Crawford, Matthew Beatty and Matthew Graham who carried, (not for the last time), up to the Portadown try line. Another ruck and another speedy recycle allowed flanker, David Stinson, to put Smyton into space. The number 8 dodged through the retreating defence to score under the posts.

The play was made up of quick phases, it involved the entire team and it moved the ball in hand, from one end of the pitch to the other in a matter of a little over a minute.

ERGS captain, Robbie Mills was next on the score sheet, quickly followed by Sam Balfour for his second, David Stinson, Matthew Bothwell and the impressive Neil Rutledge.

Matters could have deteriorated further for the visitors had it not been for some sensible refereeing by Wilkinson-Roberts who withheld the issuing of a yellow card to a Portadown player who took Smyton out in the air. Nevertheless, ERGS continued to attack relentlessly and before the end of the half Balfour scored his third, his second hattrick in successive matches, and his opposite wing, Sam Milligan, raced in for his team’s ninth try. Out-half Eddie Keys, whose place kicking is steadily improving, slotted 7 of the 9 conversions and hit the posts with the other two.

Enniskillen brought their entire bench on after the interval but the pace of their play changed little. The game had only resumed for 2 minutes before Smyton crossed the line, with Mills getting his second shortly afterwards. Taine Haire, returning from the concussion protocol, scored under the posts and Sam Balfour brought his haul to four before the referee, to everyone’s relief, called an early halt to proceedings.

There was a marked absence of “white line fever” as the ERGS’s players displayed a great willingness to seek support and to offload. The continuity and link plays of Stephen Balfour and Stuart Brown were key to setting up many of the tries and the team’s control of set pieces provided an abundance of possession with which to attack.

As with every schoolboy game there were missed opportunities, dropped balls and missed tackles, but remarkably few. It was a totally dominant, yet entertaining performance and while there is no doubt that tougher opponents lie ahead, ERGS can be very satisfied with this almost professional display.

ERGS Try scorers:- Sam Balfour (4), Callum Smyton (2), Robbie Mills (2), Sam Milligan, David Stinson, Neil Rutledge, Matthew Bothwell, Taine Haire .

Conversions:- Eddie Keys (7), George Foster (2)