LURGAN entertained Strabane at Pollock Park last Saturday with the spoils being shared in a bruising 19-19 encounter.
Lurgan claimed the opening score after good work from the pack set up a back line running opportunity. Initally the move looked too flat to cause Strabane serious problems. However just as Jonny Kingham received the ball a huge gap opened in front of him and he was able to ghost through for a super try. Nolan narrowly missed the conversion.
For the remainder of the half Strabane used their strong pack to exert pressure on Lurgan. While their line-out was suffering due to excellent disruptive work from Aaron Robinson and Richie Shilliday, Strabane’s pack was gaining the upper hand in the scrums to good effect. A pick-and-drive move from a scrum eventually saw Strabane’s back rower go over for a converted try, which reflected their dominance at this stage of the game.
Lurgan responded by using the wind at their backs to kick long and benefit from their dominance at the lineout. The tactics worked, Lurgan playing themselves into a position where Strabane were forced to concede a penalty in front of the posts. Nolan duly converted to put Lurgan back in the lead at 8-7.
Lurgan then produced the try of the game. A period of good support play brought the home side up to the opposition 10 metre line on the right hand side. Quick ball allowed scrum half Jonny Hampton to feed Nolan, and an exquisite back line move saw Jonny Kingham round the last Strabane defender to score a great try in the left corner. The difficult conversion was missed, but Lurgan went into the break leading 13-7.
Strabane started the second period with the breeze to their backs and kicked long for territory. Lurgan were taking the spoils in the lineout however, disrupting a lot of opposition ball, while their defence was holding firm in midfield.
Strabane’s pack did begin to turn the screw, forcing a period of pressure in Lurgan’s 22, with a series of strength-sapping scrums stretching Lurgan to the limit. After a series of penalties conceded, where Strabane opted to re-scrum, Lurgan eventually managed to force a knock-on and turn-over ball. Lurgan won their scrum, but a Strabane player appeared from an off-side position and stole it. The referee seemed happy to let play proceed and Strabane were able to score a converted try from a couple of further drives.
Now trailing 13-14 and with time ticking by, Lurgan produced a great effort and attacked upfield. Again, they forced Strabane to concede a penalty which Nolan slotted over to lead 16-14.
The referee indicated some three minutes left to play, so all Lurgan had to do was secure ball from the kick-off and retain possession to see the game out. Unfortunately, a breakdown in communication at the restart allowed the Strabane kick to roll and roll in the stiff breeze into Lurgan’s 22. Strabane’s excellent chasing players forced an error and a knock-on for a scrum some 8 metres out. A series of drives from the away side were repelled by stern Lurgan defence, until the ball did appear to end held-up over the line in a melee of bodies. Normally if it cannot be clearly determined that a try has been scored in such circumstances, a five metre scrum is awarded to the attacking side. However, the referee started ordering Lurgan players to move away from the ball, some of whom appeared to be holding the ball up and thus preventing the try. The referee, having removed the impediment to the ball being grounded, then awarded a try much to the confusion and irritation of the home support.
Strabane hit the post with their conversion to lead 16-19. The referee indicated some two minutes remaining, and Lurgan used their anger at the previous injustice to work hard upfield and secure a Strabane infringement some 30 metres out to the right of the posts. With time now running down and options limited, Lurgan chose not to kick into the corner to force a try from a lineout. Instead Nolan kicked the difficult penalty to level the scores at 19 apiece.
Lurgan Firsts now have a short break before the crucial away trip to Newry on 9th February. A good turn out at training this week and next will help eradicate some of the mistakes which perhaps cost a chance of victory.