Cooke 1st XV 12 Enniskillen 1st XV 24

Skins will enter this Saturday’s Junior Cup semi-final away to Ballyclare with confidence after they followed up a quarter final win away to Instonians with a league victory over Cooke at Shaws Bridge on Saturday.

A ruthless first half performance sent Stevie Welsh’s side on their way to the win over Cooke and the coach is pleased with his side’s form as they prepare to take on Ballyclare.

“We are happy with how things have been going so far for us, we are getting results, if not full performances,” he said. “The boys are buying into the new system and while it may be a bit of a cliche, we are on a journey at the minute.” The Junior Cup is not one that Skins usually target but that has changed this season, explains Welsh.

“We don’t usually challenge for this but at the start of the year the boys set this as one of their goals so this Saturday is a massive game,” he added.

And he expects a big test against Ballyclare who Skins defeated in the Towns’ Cup final last season. “Ballyclare are a good outfit and they beat us 5-0 recently in the league but then they would have been going into it keen to make up for the Towns’ Cup loss last season. We know it will be tough but I know our boys can compete with anyone in our league and it is a matter of switching on for the 80 minutes and if we do that then we will have a great chance,” he stated.

On Saturday, Cooke didn’t see much of the ball for the first quarter as Skins started at an alarming pace, collecting the kick off and battering the home side through the forward pack, Jamie Kelly and Jack Rutledge wearing down the defence as they continued to do throughout. The onslaught had the home side clearly under pressure and penalties began to mount, leaving Skins with a kick to touch inside the Cooke 22’ to set up a characteristic rampaging maul that had Kelly cross the line for the first score, converted by Nick Finlay to take a 0-7 lead.

The home side struggled to get any real continuity but this was equally down to the Enniskillen pressure. The scrum was generally in the ascendency through the front row of Warrington, Cathcart and Beatty along with Fox injecting plenty of vigour off the bench. The defence was looking fairly impenetrable too through the centre pairing of Harte and Manuel with Mark O’Shea on the wing also shutting down some dangerous runners from the home side.

Continued pressure in the Cooke half gave Finlay a chance to extend the lead through a kick at goal after another infringement, now leading 0-10. Pressure on the Cooke line out from Josh Kennedy and Gavin Parke along with a dominant scrum left Cooke feeling suffocated in their own half. A break from Alex Parke down the wing almost secured another score only to be stopped by the scrambling defence, but soon another big maul from the line out had Skins pressuring the try line yet again. A big carry from Captain Gareth Beatty had him cross the line for the second try, another impressive conversion from Finlay had Skins leading now 0-17.

After battling a similar resurgence from Instonians the previous week the emphasis for Skins was surely to maintain their position but yet again small errors, a couple of malfunctioning line outs, along with penalties at the breakdown and for creeping offside, gave the home side the territory and possession they craved in the second half. Defence had been solid up to this point but too much time spent by Skins inside their own 22’ was inevitably punished with a close range carry crossing the line, converted to trail 7-17 going into half time.

The second half continued in the same vein with Skins having to defend, the conditions starting to play a factor now with a drop at the restart and scrappy ball at the back of the ruck disrupting Skins’ attack. The Cooke back line began to threaten now with their winger and centre finding gaps in the Skins defence to make plenty of easy yards. Another Cooke score came now after an extended period of pressure on the Skins line as a carry through the forwards broke through, despite protests that it was held up by the determined defence, the referee awarded the score, unconverted to reduce the deficit to 12-17.

Frustration crept in now and a huge hit from Jack Harte was deemed illegal as he was awarded 10 minutes in the bin. Enniskillen shored up their defence now as the game remained in the balance and applied much more pressure on the Cooke attack; Gareth Beatty put in some aggressive hits while David Buchanan was as ever a nuisance at the breakdown and in defence to disrupt the home side. This defensive effort yielded Skins some ball to play with now and Alex Parke relieved the pressure on the scoreboard, catching an attempted clearance kick just inside the Cooke half, stepping the winger and outpacing the fullback to score in the corner, another conversion from Finlay on the touchline to leave the scoreline 12-24 to Enniskillen.

With their tails up again and back to full numbers Enniskillen knew the target was the bonus point. Back inside the Cooke 22’ with minutes on the clock Skins were putting severe pressure on the home side through a scrum that had them back pedalling rapidly but they somehow managed to clear their lines as the final whistle went.

This was a ruthless performance in the early stages from Stephen Welsh’s side and another win on the road against a Cooke 1st XV side that hasn’t slipped up against a visiting Enniskillen in many years.