Strabane Academy 1st XV put on impressive display in Portugal.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Strabane Academy 1st XV put on impressive display in Portugal. thumbnail Ralph Mealiff and Gareth Glendinning with UTRC dignitaries.

THE Strabane Academy 1st XV Rugby squad began their preparation for the School's cup emphatically over half term, as they embarked on a training camp in the Algarve, Portugal.

The five-day tour comprised of daily pitch sessions at the state of the art VRSA sports complex in Monte Gordo, video analysis and recovery sessions.

The culmination of the expedition was a 600km round trip to Lisbon, where the 1st XV would face current Portuguese U18 'table toppers' University Technico Rugby Club.

"Prior to kick off there were some concerns that the journey, humid climate and floodlights may have inhibited performance," said a spokesperson for the club.

"When you add in the fact that Captain Ralph Mealliff was an injured on looker, a little trepidation could be forgiven.

Given the electric start displayed by the tourists these factors appeared to have little or no ill effect on the Academy team. Indeed the Strabane side should have taken the lead through front rower Jack Sayers on five minutes.

Sustained forwards pressure created space on the right wing for the Academy backs, scrum half Shaw then snapped the ball back to an awaiting pod of forwards.

Sayers was stopped inches short of the line and penalised for a double movement to allow the hosts off the hook.

"The home side seemed content to run the ball from anywhere on the pitch, until they got into trouble and with the Academy lineout functioning well and the front row of Duncan, Sayers and Hunter in the ascendancy at scrum time this appeared to play into the hands of the visitors.

It came as no surprise that Strabane opened the scoring half way through the first period. A turnover in midfield actioned by Gavin Doherty saw his new Centre partner, Jamie Browne, show outstanding evasive footwork and a good burst of pace bringing Strabane dangerous field position on their opponents '22'.

From the resulting breakdown the pack launched several pick and go drives, gaining valuable yards.

A good trundle by McAuley allowed the inventive back row of deputising captain Glendinning and McElwee to combine to allow partner Jordan Mealiff to cross the white wash on the 15 metre line.

"Shortly after the restart the Academy side should have added to their tally, Shaw identifying space on the fringe of a ruck and evaded two tackles to leave him one V one with the opposing full back, 15 metres short of the goal line. Selflessly, Shaw offloaded to half back partner Kirk, who was tackled as he received the ball, if not slightly before, allowing the home side to slow the ball down and regroup.

"This scare seemed to kick start the hosts, as they opted to play for territory rather than possession and adopted a kick chase game pinning Strabane back in their '22'. It has been commented on that a particular strength of this XV is its broken field running.

One of the finest exponents is Arun Mehan. After a fine turn over from the tenacious number 8 Jordan Mealiff, Mehan was put into a yard of space and faced with two props. In a split second he created himself an abundance of space and the after burners went on, running 80 metres to score under the posts, Kirk dutifully adding the extras.

"The half ended with Strabane in the green zone once again, winger Jack Kee and full back Michael Doherty interchanging passes running the ball deep into their opponents '22'. Several penalty infringements later Kirk opted to kick for the posts, unfortunately striking the right upright to bring an end to the first period.

"A change of official in the second period caused some disruption as the language barrier became one of the issues to face the touring side.

Personnel changes saw the combative Matthew Kelly join the front row and the effervescing Jack Madden replace workhorses Hunter and Gamble respectively.

"The first 10 minutes was akin to two boxers feeling their way through the opening rounds of a title bout. The second half sprung into life due to a Strabane error, playing somewhat expansively inside their own 10 metre line a pass was missed and the opposing centre intercepted to run under the posts for a converted try.

"Strabane went about restoring their two score advantage, however they could not create a guilt edge chance inside their opposing '22' to add to the score card. In the final five minutes of the encounter a fly hack at a breakdown saw some frantic play, much more similar to mob football in its earliest forms.

From the resulting broken play the ball fell fortunately for the speedy UTRC centre, who finished well in the corner to see the score rest at 12 points a piece.

"The final minutes saw the visitors attempt to regain the lead, it appeared that fatigue had arrived and they would have to settle for a share of the spoils.

The final whistle telling the story-relief for the hosts contrasting disappointment for the tourists.

"The coaching staff will have been very happy with the performances displayed over the five days and certainly provides a good launch pad for the school's cup run in."


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