Although a postponement on the opening weekend of the academic year delayed the first set of games, the season certainly started off with a bang for the Strabane Academy Rugby Club.
A home game against Foyle only re appeared on the 1st XV roster last season, and a 50-0 defeat was an indicator of the step up in standard. One year on, those 12 months suggested a transformation in the Strabane sky blue and navy men. With the clock gone red, the hosts lead their maiden city counterparts by 2 points. Only for the bounce of the oval ball to favour the visitors and the Academy team were left to wonder what might have been.
The first half saw the travelling Foyle side venture into the Strabane ‘22’ on two occasions, leaving with 3 points from a Coyle penalty. On reflection the hosts will rue 3 guilt edge chances from the first period, having to settle for a single try, coming from the pace of Centre Arun Mehan. The centre finished a charged down kick with great poise and composure.
Foyle hit back with a try of their own at the beginning of the 2nd half, before the home side produced the score of the game. Michael Doherty, making a very welcome return after a sabbatical, cut through the Foyle defence before supplying full back Shaw with a precision pass who finished well to the right of the posts.
With 6 minutes remaining Strabane looked set to claim the spoils, thanks to a wonderful individual score from speedster Jamie Browne. The left winger swooped on to a loose ball before showing the opposing full back a clean set of heels, to score by the posts, with team captain Ralph Mealiff adding the extras.
Celebrations were to be short lived as Foyle produced a double try comeback, with star player Coyle scoring the first and creating the second. It was a difficult result to take for players and coaching staff alike. The Strabane Academy back row of Jordan Mealiff, Adam McElwee and man of the match Gareth Glendinning produced a master class and must be wondering how this one got away.
There was no time to lick their wounds as the 1st XV, Medallions and Junior side set off for Campbell College for an evening game on Friday.
Once again the Strabane side dominated the early encounters, and yet again they could not translate this dominance into points. At half time the score line read 7-7 with Jordan Mealiff opening his account for the season finishing a well worked forward move. The home side then stepped on the gas, playing some wonderful expansive Rugby as the effects of Wednesday’s epic encounter started to show. Three unanswered scores settled the encounter, though to their credit the Academy side, they threw everything they had at their hosts until the final whistle blew.
The Medallion XV played a very talented and physical Campbell XV, with little to split the teams after the 1st period. A score from centre Tom Harper was all the visitors could boast, despite decent territorial advantage. The second half saw Campbell control the game to a greater extent, as they played intelligent and on occasions expansive Rugby. Although the Academy team enjoyed reasonable possession, it tended to be in areas of the pitch where they could not influence the scoreboard. The usual suspects stepped up to the challenge, Finn Hampton leading the tackle count, whereas Captain Reuben Orr lead the statistics for most yards gained. Tom Harper showed that he is growing into the first centre position and he received service from scrum half Boyd. Jason Henderson is now adapting well to life in the pack and is one to watch for the future.
Strabane Academy’s Junior XV did manage to stop an ‘All Black’ clean sweep with a single point victory. The style of these two sides could not have been more conflicting, the home side looking to throw the ball wide at every opportunity, whereas the Strabane boys were happy to go through phase after phase and it seemed to be working as the shot into a 19-0 lead. Tries coming from John Cummings (2) and Tai Duncan, with the trust boot of Raymond Curry adding two conversions. The Campbell boys hit back with 19 points of their own to leave it all square at the break.
The second half was a much tighter affair, with both teams defending resolutely. There were some big hits dished out particularly by industrious Captain Mark Millar and forwards Oisin Robinson and Adam Quinn. Campbell struck first blood spotting a miss match out wide to score in the corner. Strabane immediately went on the offensive and patiently drove up the field with phase after phase. Duncan then completed his brace finishing off good work from Prue and Canning.
Just when it seemed the game was set to end up as a stalemate a piece of individual brilliance saw the away side steal the spoils. Out half Dylan Hampton made three consecutive tackles in the 15 metre channel before Millar turned the ball over. Hampton then saw Mullholland in a few yards of space. The diminutive centre then evaded 2 tackles before putting on the after burners to score under the posts. That left Curry to add the extras and seal an enthralling victory.