LURGAN Rugby Club U15’s have finished joint top of the Ulster Premier League with 10 wins from their 11 games.
They topped the table on 31 points with Carrick RFC and were the only team to defeat the Co Antrim side during the campaign. It looked like it was going to be a long, difficult season when in their first pre-season friendly against Armagh in September they conceded a number of first half tries as the boys struggled to adjust to the pace and physicality of this level of youth rugby. With only Max Hamilton, Declan Foster and Benjamin Greer remaining from last season’s squad, they are essentially an U14 side in an U15 league, with the core of the side being made up from last season’s U13 Ulster Cup winning side.
It is to their credit they regrouped at half time during the Armagh game, outscored their opponents in the second half and have continued to defy size and rugby logic during their league programme when in almost every game they were generally a year younger and physically smaller than the boys they were playing against. Banbridge were the first side to fall to the Lurgan boys, followed by Carrick, the two clubs that had contested last season’s league play off final. All Ireland league clubs Malone, Rainey, City of Derry and Ballymena were among some of the sides defeated, some comprehensively, some by a close margin. The only blip in their season came in a top of the table clash against Randalstown.
In this game Lurgan played their opponents off the park, created enough chances to win half a dozen games but could only take one, and lost to three breakaway tries. The Lurgan forwards driven forward by flankers Ben McAlister and Victor Mackenzie have secured an ample amount of ball. The new half back partnership of Scott Wilson and Jonathan Hunter have developed a good understanding which has allowed strike runners Michael Watson and Cormac Sheehy to score the bulk of the tries. But this is a team sport and although Michael and Cormac have got the glory every member of the squad has stood up and been counted and put their body on the line each time they have stepped on the pitch and the boys thoroughly deserve to be sitting proudly at the top of the league table. With the top two sides in the league qualifying for a league play off spot,
Lurgan took on Coleraine at Pollock Park on Saturday in the U15 league quarter final. It was clear as soon as Coleraine stepped off the bus that this was going to be one of the toughest battles the lads had faced so far this season. Not only were they probably the biggest side they had faced this season but also looked to be quick and fit as well. Lurgan started well, putting their opponents under pressure and were rewarded with a score from Michael Watson. But Coleraine gradually settled into the game and scored twice before the break to take the lead. With the half time score 12-5 to Coleraine, Lurgan were still well in the game but the next score was crucial. Coleraine got the decisive next try and the game began to drift away from the Pollock Park lads. But the boys did not allow their heads to drop, continued to take the game to their opponents and had chances of their own. But for the first time this season they were overwhelmed by the sheer pace and power of the older Coleraine boys and finally lost 32-5.
It was a disappointing way to end the league campaign but all the battered and bruised Lurgan lads had given 100% and there was no shame in losing to what was easily the best side they had faced all season. They will get another crack at Coleraine at Pollock Park on 2nd March in the first pool game, and also visit Ards and entertain Enniskillen in what will be a tough group. But the lads are already looking forward to the challenge.