1st XV retain their Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1 title

Instonians retain their Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1 title 
Cooke 18 – Instonians 30 
Date: 2-30 pm Saturday, 24 March 2019 
Venue: Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast 
Fixture: Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1 
Conditions: Dry bright day, firm pitch with moderate wind from West.

This was it the final league Saturday of the season and still all to play for. Three teams could  win this very tight contest with their final outing. In pole position was Ballyclare with a two point lead over Instonians in second place. They were entertaining Dromore, lurking in third place, at their lair at the Cloghan, where very few away teams emerge victorious. Any sort of win for Ballyclare would see them crowned league champions. Dromore need a five pointer win and Instonians to lose for them to take the title. All Instonians could do was win against Cooke and hope for an upset at the Cloghan. 

They took the field with a strong combination. Back from injury was James Martin at number 8 to make up a very powerful back row combination with Massimo Kiri Kiri and Mark Mairs. John Andress moved up into the second row to partner Tom Matthews, which meant there was no place for Sean Shuttleworth this week. Cameron Barr moved from the back row to hooker to cover for Neil Saulters with Alan Whitten and Conor Gallagher joining him in an experienced front row. 
The backs were along traditional lines of recent weeks. Erin Wagner and David McGovern were on the bench. 

Cooke kicked off with a moderate wind at their backs. Right from the start Instonians showed that they meant business. A penalty at the first scrum saw them miss touch but they soon made amends when they took a quick tap for a second penalty at the breakdown and moved the ball wide for captain David Scott to make a powerful burst. For a third time Cooke indiscipline let them down. This time for hands in the ruck. Instonians ricked for a line out 5 metres out and mauled from it close to the line. After series of drives Cameron Barr saw his chance and charged for the line for an unconverted try to put his side 0-5 up after 6 minutes. 

Cooke were soon back in the contest when they forced a put in at the scrum on the Instonian 22. They moved the ball wide but were forced into touch on their first foray. A “not straight” call at the line out gave them a second bite from the scrum. This time they scythed right through in the centre following a missed tackle to score to level the scores at 5-5 on 10 minutes. 

Although Instonians won back the kick off and looked dangerous a stray pass allowed Cooke to kick long over the goal line and gave Instonians a 22 drop out. Cooke fielded this and ran back at the opposition again. They held the ball very well as they pushed the defence into conceding a penalty on their own 22 and straight in front of the posts. They made no mistake from the simple kick and were 8-5 up after 15 minutes. 

The Instonian maul was now being used to good effect.  Another penalty and Instonians were back pressing the Cooke line. After pulling down the maul Cooke were penalised yet again. This time Instonians chose to scrum just 5 metres out. It was Davey Scott again who took the ball right to the line. The ball was recycled quickly and moved wide to allow full back Colm Cregan to race in, almost unopposed, for his side’s second try. This went unconverted but Instonians were now back in the lead 8-10 as we moved into the second quarter. 

The Instonian back row were combining very well now, particularly with ball in hand. A strong field by Mark Mairs sent Massimo Kiri Kiri crashing up to earn yet another penalty. This time the opportunity was lost when the ball was “knocked on” in the line out. Paul Marshall was also testing the Cooke defence with a series of breaks but small errors resulted in the ball being lost. When Cooke had the ball they were retaining it well. Another period in the Instonian half saw them win a penalty just over 40 metres out, but in front of the posts. The kick at goal was good and Cooke were back in front 11-10 in this see saw match. 

From the kick off Massimo Kiri Kiri had another great break up the blindside but when the ball was turned over Cooke were able to run the ball back to the Instonian 22. It was “helter skelter” exciting stuff with both sides showing a willingness to spread the ball when the opportunity presented. Again, it was the Instonian line out and maul that saved the day. First Paul Marshall made the initial break then the ball was moved wide. It was exhilarating stuff as both forwards and backs interchanged and took the ball in a series of moves which saw John Andress almost make the line as he joined the attack wide out. He was hauled down just short but Cameron Barr was on hand again to crash over for another try. Although, once more, unconverted Instonians were in the lead again 11-15 and very much in the ascendancy as we moved into the final stages of the half. 
During a period of indiscipline Cooke earned a yellow card as Instonians won and mauled a series of penalties. Another throw in 5 metres out yielded the customary result. First Instonians bashed the goal line close in as their forward came “round the corner” in a series of well disciplined drives, then the ball was moved wide on the blindside. This time it was number 8 James Martin who crashed in at the corner to put his side 11-20 up just before half-time. 

With the wind in the second half Instonians might have expected to have enjoyed the best of territory and possession. But it was not to be as a determined Cooke side fought back. Very quickly a penalty in their favour at the breakdown allowed Cooke to tap and race into the Instonian 22. They held the ball well and were ruled “held up” to give them a 5 metre put in at the scrum. Two penalties in their favour at the ensuing scrum and they were really “turning the screw”. Instonians did well to hold them out but Cooke held their patience and were rewarded will a well-deserved converted try. We were back to 18-20 with just five minutes of the second period gone. Game on! 

To steady the nerves Instonian captain Davey Scott elected to take a shot at goal himself after he made a telling run into the Cooke 22 which took Mark Mairs almost to the line. Cooke were forced to infringe and Davey Scott made no mistake from 15 metres out in front of the posts. With the score back at 18-23 Instonians had a little breathing space and they needed it as Cooke were still not done. Back they came again and looked particularly dangerous with ball in hand. When awarded penalties they tended to tap quickly and move the ball through the hands. Unfortunately, for them, handling errors cost them dearly. Another penalty in their favour brought them another excellent spell in the Instonian 22. It took a very determined defence to hold them out and cost Instonians a yellow card on 60 minutes as the penalty count kept mounting. 

Eventually Instonians were able to break clear. They held the ball through the phases down into the Cooke half and into the 22. Cooke went offside after a scrum and Instonians were able to kick for a line out 15 metres out. The customary maul followed and when Cooke were forced to bring it down right on the line the referee awarded a penalty try and a yellow card followed. At 18-30, with a bonus point in the bag, Instonians were now safe. They still had another tricky few minutes to see out as Cooke came back at them yet again. They tried to give Instonians some of their own medicine. A series of penalties in their favour and another yellow card against Instonians saw them camped on the opposition line. It took all that Instonians could muster defensively to hold them out until the final whistle. It had been a traditionally hard-fought contest between the two sides, with plenty of good exciting rugby played. As the final whistle sound Instonians were greeted with the news that their rivals Ballyclare had fallen to Dromore. Instonians were champions for the third time in five years. The celebrations could now begin with the realisation that the All Ireland Play offs were beckoning against the champions of Connaught, Leinster and Munster. Perhaps in this Centenary Year it will be third time lucky! 

Team list: Instonians: 15. Colm Cregan, 14. Donal Moloney, 13. Wayne Kelly, 12. David Scott ©, 11. Ross O’Donnell, 10. Richard McCarthy, 9. Paul Marshall, 8. James Marin, 7. Massimo Kiri Kiri, 6. Mark Mairs, 5. John Andress, 4. Tom Matthews, 3. Alan Whitten, 2.Cameron Barr, 1. Conor Gallagher, 16. Erin Wagner, 17. David McGovern.






Rest of the season and the Round Robin for Promotion to the All Ireland League

Some good details about the Round Robin




1st XV

30th Mar

RR 1 - Leinster Champions Enniscorthy (H) 

6th Apr

RR 2 - Connacht Champions Connemara (A)

13th Apr

RR 3 - Munster Champions Clonmel (H)

20th Apr


22nd Apr (Mon)

Easter Mon Instonians U20s Tournament

27th Apr