STRABANE Academy’s rugby first team will certainly enjoy their Christmas after ousting familiar foes, Wellington College from the first round of the Schools’ Cup at a decidedly soggy Liskey Road.
The victory for Niall McDonnell’s men, which was a little narrower than it perhaps should have been, has been rewarded with a place in the second round of the prestigious competition against Belfast High School at their Jordanstown base early next year.
Against Wellington, the eagerly-anticipated encounter turned into something of a game of two halves, with the hosts ruling the roost in the first period, while their Belfast visitors ‘threw the kitchen sink’ at them after the turn around.
And while McDonnell’s young charges probably should have been comfortably home and hosed after a dominant first half, which saw them 21-10 ahead, mistakes, which were understandable given the horrendous conditions, allowed Wellington to remain in touch and run the home side much closer than their coach would have liked.
In the end, though, the difference proved to be Harry McCrossan’s kicking.
The scrumhalf successfully converted all three of Strabane’s tries, which were scored by Reuben Orr, vice-captain Jack Sayers and Gavin Doherty, much to the delight of a relieved McDonnell at the final whistle.
“I’m delighted for the boys and it will just take a little while now to be able to breath again,” he exclaimed.
“What won us the match today was the fact we converted all three of our tries and they only converted one of theirs.
“Conditions were absolutely treacherous, it was a bit of a mud bath with a strong wind.
“In fairness, Wellington were fantastic in the second half, they threw the kitchen sink at us and they scored one try, but we were 21-10 up at the break and should have been 30-plus.
“We made two real mistakes after scoring, we gifted them two tries after restarts, knocking the ball on in our own 22. Due to the conditions, if you had front-foot ball it was very difficult to stop you.”
The first try was scored by Orr off a maul after he and Sayers teamed up before feeding skipper and number eight, Jordan Mealiff, who kept the move rumbling forward before allowing Orr to finish the move off.
Wellington responded well, with two unconverted scores from Chris Campbell and Marcus Smyth forging them into a three point lead.
But back came Strabane with a second try courtesy of Finn Hampton’s quick thinking. The talented hooker charged down a Wellington College kick after a line-out, ran through, picked the ball up, kicked through and his tighthead front row colleague Sayers won the foot race to touch down in the corner.
The last Strabane try came from their own line-out as the forwards charged around the corner to set up the platform for the backs to get involved and it was second centre Gavin Doherty, who ran a line on the outside shoulder in between Wellington’s outside centre and left winger to score.
Strabane enjoyed an 11-point lead going into the break, but it was their defence that was tested fully after the restart.
Although the visitors managed to breach a resolute rearguard action once for a converted try, thanks to number eight Adam Savage, converted by Marcus Smyth. the home 15 proved a stubborn beast and they managed to hold on and deservedly claim their place in round two.