1st XV Clinch the league with win against Clogher Valley!!

For a lot of Instonians Saturday 26 March began at Osborne which looked resplendent in the glorious sunshine. The occasion was a match between RBAI and an Ulster Schools Presidents XV to celebrate 150 years of rugby at RBAI and it was great to see British Lions Davy Hewitt, Ronnie Lamont and Davy Irwin in attendance along with Irish Internationals Harry McKibbin, Keith Crossan and Peter Russell. The game ended in a 24 all draw and the expectation was for a similar very close encounter in the top of the table league decider at Shaws Bridge between Instonians and Clogher Valley, after all, the previous match between the 2 sides resulted in a 27-26 win for Instonians.

There was huge expectation and anticipation for this massive game in front of a crowd of nearly 1,000 at Shaws Bridge with Clogher Valley’s affable President Eric Mitchell supported by a large contingent of supporters from the Cran. On the line was not just the league title but the opportunity to reach an AIL play off semi-final the following Saturday.

With only 2 subs allowed Instonians were forced into a reshuffle just before kick off as Davy Scott pulled up in the warm up. Mathew Kilpatrick was immediately brought into the starting 15 for his first game of the season.

Clogher kicked off playing towards the far car park and immediately Instonians showed good continuity and control of possession which eventually resulted in a penalty on the Clogher 22 in front of the posts. Matthew Keane converted.

14:36 - Instonians 3 – Clogher 0

From early on it was clear that the dominant Instonians scrum which we all have witnessed all season was already clicking into gear and after a scrum penalty Matthew Keane converted from a similar spot.

14:41 -   Instonians 6 – Clogher 0

Instonians maintained the pressure and kicked to the corner from a penalty on half way . From the line out the ball was moved to out half Ruari O’Farrell who made a lovely clean line break and fed the supporting Bevan Prinsloo who ran round under the posts to give Matthew Keane the simplest of conversions.

14:46 -   Instonians 13 – Clogher 0

Both teams continued to try to run the ball but when Instonians tried to run back a kick in their 22 they were penalised and Clogher got on the scoreboard.

14:51 -   Instonians 13 – Clogher 3

This was now a real contest with attacking intent and good defence by both teams. Then a long kick to the corner was adjudged to be taken over the line by Andrew Keane. Clogher got the line out 5 metres from the Instonians line and after several pick and goes they moved the ball wide for their centre to score out wide.

15:00 -   Instonians 13 – Clogher 8

Clogher were now well and truly taking the game to Instonians and managing the game well. From a penalty they kicked to the corner and had a great driving maul from the resultant line out. Instonians defence was excellent however and held out.

It was then Instonians turn to put pressure on Clogher helped by their dominant scrum. From a scrum on the 10 yard line they opted to move the ball quickly from the base instead of pushing Clogher back and got a penalty in the Clogher 22. Rather than kick at goal they went to the corner and from the resulting lineout the pack just kept possession, showed good control and patience to move the ball under the Clogher posts. Matthew Keane had already spotted his opportunity and reached over the line to touch down and then add the extras himself.

15:11 -   Instonians 20 – Clogher 8

Then with the last play of the half Clogher got a penalty on the Instonians 22 and chose to kick at goal this time and chip away at the deficit.

HALF TIME Instonians 20 – Clogher 11.

15:18 Clogher started the 2nd half with a bang with the ball moved sharply and quickly. Instonians defence was stretched to the limit during this passage of play which also included the very unfortunate injury to Jordan Heatley who has stepped up admirably from the 2nds following the recent injuries in the backline. We hear that Jordan fractured his cheekbone and wish him a speedy recovery. What looked like a certain try was stopped in the far right hand corner by a superb Mark Keane tackle. There followed a lengthy stoppage for Jordan’s injury to be addressed.

The ebb and flow of this terrific game of rugby continued with a great drive off a line out from No 8 Ally Burke followed by a great attacking kick from Matthew Keane to the Clogher 10 yard line.

Just a minute later and the crowd witnessed one of those moments of sheer class from Mark Keane with an absolutely scintillating break where he moved inside and then out before passing to his cousin Matthew on his outside who showed good pace to score in the far left hand corner.

From the far touch land and on the wrong side of the pitch for a left foot kicker Matthew hit the crossbar with the conversion.

15:29 -   Instonians 25 – Clogher 11

With a 2 score cushion and Clogher needing to win the match you could be forgiven for thinking the game was over but this young Clogher team is a special one and they showed great character and resilience to get back in the game.

It started with a missed penalty kick to touch from Matthew Keane , a rare blemish in another very good performance. Instead of Instonians having a line out in the Clogher 22, a counter from Clogher and an attacking kick resulted in an Instonians line out in their own 22. No immediate danger given the quality of Instonians line out both in this game and all season but on this occasion the referee called the throw not straight and from the ensuing scrum the excellent Clogher Valley no 8 was up and away blind before the defence was set to score. The conversion meant we were back to a 1 score game.

15:36 -   Instonians 25 – Clogher 18

A monster of a kick from Clogher from their own 22 was expertly marshalled by Andrew Keane at 15 for Instonians. It had just enough legs to go dead and so the resulting scrum to Instonians was in front of the posts on the Clogher 22. Another strong Instonians scrum with the ball this time moved left but excellent Clogher defence kept them out.

A line out throw over the back to Bevan Prinsloo and a clever grubber kick by Matthew Keane took play back into the Clogher 22. A penalty at the line out allowed Clogher to clear their lines again.

The next score felt as if it would be crucial and it was Clogher’s turn to attack. Great defence by Instonians in their own 22 resulting in their put in to the scrum under their own posts and 5 metres from their line. With such a dominant scrum there was no immediate cause for concern but a differential penalty for early engagement put Clogher back on the attack right under the posts. Then came what felt like could be a pivotal moment in the game when Paul Pritchard was yellow carded with 13 minutes to go plus injury time.

Clogher made use of the extra man and following pressure on the Instonians 22 got a penalty and elected to take the 3 points. Smart thinking knowing they needed 2 scores anyway. They now only needed one and nerves were tingling amongst the Instonians faithful in the packed balcony and no doubt on the touchline too.

15:48 -   Instonians 25 – Clogher 21

Instonians then showed their mettle and you would not have known that they were the ones with a man down in the pack as they showed great control to maintain possession in the Clogher 22 with inspirational captain Alan Whitten to the fore as always. The resulting penalty under the posts from Matthew Keane meant that again Clogher needed to score twice again and there was only 2 minutes left on the yellow card.

15:53 -   Instonians 28 – Clogher 21

In this enthralling encounter with attack and counter attack from both sides there was now just 5 minutes to play plus injury time but the crowd sensed that there was still more to come.

Clogher attacked again with everything they had knowing they needed to win the game and therefore score twice. Another great piece of play from Mark Keane where he wrestled the ball away looked to have saved the day but there must have been another infringement from Instonians as the penalty went to Clogher. Same situation as before but this time Clogher took the scrum and the excellent Clogher Valley no 8 took off blind again for his 2nd score. The conversion from the touchline which would have levelled the game hit the post. You could not write this script.

15:58 -   Instonians 28 – Clogher 26

It was now down to how much time the ref was to add on for injuries and Clogher only needed a penalty or a drop goal to win it. Paul Pritchard was now back on so we were 15 against 15. The Instonians crowd nerves were shot when Clogher got a penalty on half way and kicked to touch just outside the 22 but a great line out steal from Eoghan Murphy was followed by a great break from Bevan Prinsloo who found Mark Keane in support with a great kick and chase and a penalty for Instonians under the posts. With everyone expecting a kick at goal sharp thinking from captain Alan Whitten opted for a scrum instead as the ref had said there was just under 2 minutes left which would have left Clogher with one last chance and 5 points behind. When you have such a powerful dominant scrum as Instonians they just had to make sure that there was no early engagement. There was not and as the Clogher Valley scrum buckled under one more powerful Instonians scrum the ref was already under the posts signaling a penalty try as Instonians pack marched the scrum over the try line.

FULL TIME -   Instonians 35 – Clogher 26

This was a titanic tussle between the top 2 teams in the league and it was harsh on either side to lose. Before the match there was general agreement that whoever won through would fly the flag well for Ulster in the play-offs. Clogher were excellent and this young side will respond no doubt.

Hard to pick a MOM given the great performance of the whole 17 players involved for Instonians so maybe this week a back and a forward. The back has to be Mark Keane who is showing the form that got him an Ulster cap and the forward the inspirational captain’s performance from Alan Whitten.

Perhaps both teams will meet again in the Junior Cup at the end of the season but for Instonians the focus now (and only now) turns to Munster champions Newcastle West next Saturday 2 April at Navan RFC with a 3 p.m. kick off. This is effectively a semi-final for AIL qualification. The new biggest game of the season and all support is welcome.