STRABANE Academy’s rugby first team may have suffered a 17 point defeat to Grosvenor at Liskey Road in their opening Danske Bank Schools’ Cup Group D fixture of the season on Saturday, but their performance warranted a much closer final score.
Several individual errors from the understrength and very young home side came back to haunt them in the end, as the physically more robust Grosvenor side punished their Strabane counterparts to the fullest.
With only 17 players available at kick-off, Strabane coach Niall McDonnelly knew his side would be up against it when facing a school twice the size of the Academy, but he was delighted with the effort from his players.
“They scored with the last play to leave it 22-5 and to be honest, if we had kept it at 17-5 and denied them a bonus point it would have been like a victory to me, but they couldn’t have played any better,” he explained.
“We were a massive banana skin for them and it showed when they scored that fourth try. The relief, the celebrations were wild and our boys were gutted because we gifted them three of their four tries.
“In terms of physicality, their pack was bigger than ours. We have one upper sixth in our squad, our front row is all 16, our second row we have one 15-year-old and in the backrow, again, they are all 16 or 17, so this is a young side and that year makes a big difference.
“They had another year on us and it just told, but I thought defensively we were tremendous.
“They had great strike runners and you could see we lacked that little bit of experience but in the second half there were periods where we put phases together and got good go forward ball.
“It was just a bit disappointing not to register one more score but it’s very difficult to find fault. Yes, we made mistakes and we lost but I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the boys.”
Grosvenor scored two tries in the first half. One came with a missed kick to touch that was run back with interest and the second saw Strabane turn the ball over through Harry Prue in their own 22 but because no-one was alert to the situation, the visitors walked over the ruck, picked up the ball and ran through to score.
Those tries from the visitors came either side of a Strabane touchdown from the impressive Eoin McSorley, who only started playing properly this year.
He received possession after Jack Kee’s crunching tackle led to the ball going loose. McSorley pounced on it and sprinted 70 yards for a great finish in the corner to make it 7-5.
After the interval, with Strabane 12-5 down, they upped their performance level again. Defensively, the home side were superb, keeping Grosvenor at bay despite the Belfast boys having six lineouts and five scrums inside the Academy 22.
Jason Henderson, John Cummings, Finn Hampton and Reuben Orr were the most regular line breakers for Strabane, but despite countless forages into the opponents 22 they left empty handed.
Defensively the pack matched their visitors blow for blow, with Mark Miller, Adam McKittrick and Brandon McGuigan relentlessly chopping down the opponents to allow captain Matthew Kelly scavenge for any turnover opportunities.
Ironically, again, to was inadvertently the Academy’s ability to turn over possession which cost them.
Tom Harper, who along with his half back partner Dylan Hampton, produced their best display at this level, bravely kicked twice for the corner in the final 10 minutes. Unfortunately, neither penalty attempt found touch, the first saw a rapid counter attack.
The second an uncharacteristic penalty for off side lead to Grosvenor launching their own set piece attack, which was initially quelled, until a fine piece of skill released the right winger to score in the corner with the final play of the game.