Up against probably the strongest team in our group and last year’s cup semi-finalists this opener to the U14’s youth rugby season was going to be a real test of grit, strength and endurance but this team was pumped and ready to go.
Virginia arrived with a full squad of 22 to face off against 16 eligible Dungannon players. With the formalities out of the way Dungannon’s Cormac Drayne kicked off and immediately Adam Kelly and Zak Holmes put pressure on the opposition winger who was tackled hard after catching the ball. Virginia piled in to secure the ball but Captain Jake Simpson and second row Michael O’Nell, Reuben Kelly and Luuk Curran rucked hard and turned them over. Virginia were now on the back foot and in a desperate attempt to stop Thomas McGuigan they gave away a penalty 10m from their try line. With 3 points on offer Cormac turned down the kick and instead went for a tap and pass to number 8 Brooklyn Fletcher who powered his way through several Virginia defenders to score in the corner. 5-0 (Great Start).
With the conversion missed the game restarted and after a period of play in and around the centre of the pitch it was Dungannon’s time to make a mistake at the ruck which allowed Virginia to pounce on a loose ball and break down the middle for an easy try under the posts which they converted 5-7.
Dungannon regrouped and for the remainder of the first half we were the better team with strong carries by Ben Hughes, Senan Nugent and Daniel Kelso and good rucking by Sheehan Fay and Luuk Curran to recycle the ball to continue the attack but despite all the good work we simply couldn’t turn this period of pressure into points.
As the half drew to an end Virginia saw an opportunity to turn the opposition attack into a scrambled defence when they kicked over the heads of our full backs who had been creeping forward. The kick caught everyone on the hop and a lucky bounce landed in the hands of the chasing Virginia centre who ran in under posts ending the half 14-5
In the second half, replacement Eoghan Donnelly took to the field and 10 mins in Eoghan tackles and rips the ball from a Virginia player for Joey Clarke to pick up and make a 30m break on the wing, offloading to Mathew Loan who was eventually put into touch 10m from the Virginia try line but Virginia fail to win their lineout and following several phases Captain Jake Simpson crashed over in the corner. Cormac’s Conversion was on target but fell short cutting the deficit to 14-10.
For the next 10 minutes the game went through a period of starts and stops as each team gave away a number of penalties or knock on which resulted in the referee marching Dungannon backwards 10m for arguing and speaking out of turn but then came a moment of brilliance when a tackle by Daniel Kelso and counter rucking by Senan and Brooklyn saw Thomas making a break from the half way line, outpacing the Virginia winger and fullback to score close to the posts. With the supporting parents on the touchline clapping and cheering, Cormac converted and we took the lead 17-14 with a few minutes to go.
You would have thought at this point we could simply keep possession and run down the clock but luck was on the side of Virginia.
From our scrum in our half we tried to run it but our ball carrier got isolated and turned over. Virginia immediately went wide but were stopped 10m from our line winning a penalty. Virginia tap and pass and try to crash over but again Dungannon stop them but in doing so give away a second penalty and annoy the patience of the ref by arguing. The referee issues a stern warning and orders Dungannon back onto their try line. Virginia go again But Brooklyn gets under the ball carrier to prevent him dotting down but the ref doesn’t see it that way and gives a try much to the disappointment of the Dungannon players.
At 17-19 to Virginia, the game restarts and seconds later when time is up Virginia kick the ball dead to win the game.
Overall this was a Herculean effort by the Dungannon players and despite the loss the coaches were very impressed with the level of rugby on display today. With better discipline and more structure they will turn defeat into a win next time they play Virginia.
Joey Clarke man of the match. Joey went about tackling every player that came into his Chanel, he was fearless yet quietly went about his business and although he didn’t score a try he was instrumental in setting up Jakes try that put Dungannon back in the game.