Enniskillen Royal 13 Friends School 5

Enniskillen Royal managed to secure safe passage to the Quarter-Finals of the Ulster Schools’ Cup last Saturday morning having beaten Friends School, Lisburn 13-5 on a crisp winter morning.

A dominant second half display was key for the Enniskillen school who set up a last eight home clash with Wallace High on February 10.

ERGS Head Coach Ashley Finlay was pleased to get the win but feels his side were not at their best in the game.

“We’re delighted to get the win but we know that we didn’t play as well as we could have.

“It was a very tough, physical game as we expected and we were put under a lot of pressure in the first half especially, so it was pleasing to weather the storm and respond positively after going behind but we lacked accuracy in both attack and defence,” he said.

He was though much happier with the second half performance.

“We were possibly fortunate to go in a couple of points up at half time as Friends really dominated the physical battle in the early parts of the game. But the way the boys dominated the second half was exceptional.

“We managed the game really well and once we opened up the eight point lead we controlled the possession and territory and completely nullified Friends,” he added.

He knows though that they will have to improve for the meeting with Wallace.

“Wallace are always strong. We lost narrowly to them earlier in the year but they’ll be a completely different beast at this time of the year. We will need to up our physicality levels and be much more accurate and clinical in attack if we are to beat them.

“We left two or three scores out on the pitch against Friends and we can’t afford to be that sloppy against Wallace. The good thing is that we know we have the quality in the squad, we can beat anyone on our day, so we just need to put the hard work in over the next two weeks and if we do we will get our reward.”

Despite having home advantage, ERGS were slow out of the blocks, with handling errors and ill-discipline characterising the opening quarter of the match.

Enniskillen, playing into a stiff wind, did manage to drive their way up the pitch with Louie Burns and James Morrison making good yards up the left hand touchline.

Enniskillen were within striking distance and both Cameron Smith and Toby Newman were close to opening the scoring but denied by the resolute Friends defence.

Friends were buoyed by this and some poor tackling and further ill-discipline from the home side allowed them to march their way back down the field and into the ERGS ‘22’.

Sustained pressure and some good hard running led to the opening score of the match in favour of the Lisburn side. The try was scored out wide and the conversion was missed. 5-0.

ERGS responded almost immediately as they forced a knock-on from the restart and followed that up by winning a penalty. Good work in the resulting lineout from Amos Johnston and Ben Foster set the perfect platform for a rolling maul.

Despite being stopped short, several pick-and-goes put the Friends try line under increasing pressure before scrum half Alex Howe sniped at the base of the ruck to dot the ball down for a try. Winger Jake Irwin added the conversion to draw the first half to a close and put Enniskillen into a 7-5 lead.

With the wind now at their back, Enniskillen knew they had a chance to dominate the territorial battle and keep the pressure on Friends. With increased ferocity in defence, ERGS managed to pin the away side in their own half and won a penalty 30m from the Friends line and right in front of the posts. Jake Irwin stepped up to slot the penalty kick straight through the middle to extend the lead to 10-5.

ERGS managed the game well from here on in as they used the wind to their advantage and kicked Friends deep into their own half.

On one occasion, the Lisburn fullback attempted to run it back but a great tackle from Morgan Whittaker stopped him in his tracks and an infringement at the ruck led to another kickable penalty. Jake Irwin dispatched with ease to make the score 13-5 and crucially extend the lead to eight points and beyond a converted try for Friends.

The remaining 20 minutes were dominated by ERGS with Toby Newman and James Trotter coming to the fore in attack.

The impact from the Enniskillen bench saw the home side continue to control both the territory and possession stats but they were unable to find another score which they would have deserved for their efforts. The final whistle blew and the game finished 13-5.

Special mention must go to man of the match Thomas Barnett, who due to injury to captain Tadhg Hambly, had to swap the backrow for outhalf which is no easy feat. He managed the attack excellently, showed great game management with his kicking and was robust in defence.