Dominant Academy advance through to the quarter-finals.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

STRABANE Academy firsts hosted Wellington College Belfast in the Danske Bank Schools Trophy on Saturday and emerged convincing victors by 57 points to nil.


In a complete performance, the Academy side systematically dismantled the visitors defence before clinically concluding events in resounding fashion.

Paradoxically the light overnight frost created perfect conditions, helping bind the heavy pitch temporarily, this was to allow the hosts to play the complete combination of tight and expansive rugby.

With that said the first five minutes was a somewhat frantic affair, with both sides struggling to maintain a level of continuity.

Indeed, even after Strabane drew first blood with a well taken try by Jack Sayers from a lineout drive, wide on the left wing there was still a degree of nervous energy in the Strabane pack.

Two minutes later it was 10-0; another line out this time on the right touchline saw the hosts maul the Belfast side metres from their line and vice- captain Gareth Glendinning was quick to spot a gap, and finish well in the corner.

The next ten minutes saw the away side try and get back into the game, as they had their best period of possession, although they could not venture inside the Academy '22'.

It is fair to say that the Academy defence is a particular strong point, not for the first time this season it appeared impenetrable, with big hits coming in from, Duncan and front row partner Hunter in the tight and Doherty and Mehan ensured that the backline held firm when Wellington decided to shift the ball wide.

The all important third try came from the all round sporting ability of Adam McElwee, after the ball was tackled loose by lock Jack Kee McElwee was first to react, showing excellent footballing skills to kick the loose ball towards the goal line and set off in hot pursuit.

Another kick left the oval ball bounding towards the whitewash before the second row showed composure and great technique to swoop the ball from the ground and dive over wide on the left of the posts.

It is an old Rugby cliché that the forwards win matches and the backs decide the margin of victory, so it was to be on Saturday. With a 15-point advantage the Strabane backs clearly felt they had a platform to attack, turning down two opportunities to exit their '22' in preference of running the ball out of defence.

Such was the case for Ralph Mealiff' s fine individual try. Receiving the ball on a wrap around Mealiff stepped in-between the two opposing centres, taking off from inside his own 10 metre line. The captain then fended off the left winger and full back to score by the posts with Arun Mehan and David Shaw in good support, before dusting himself down and adding the extras.

In comparison the fifth and final try of the half was the quintessential team try, finished off exquisitely by centre Jamie Browne. Jack Sayers received the ball from the kick off, beating the first man before setting up the next phase. Gareth Duncan then had a rumble around the corner off-loading in contact to McElwee, who again presented flawlessly in the middle of the pitch allowing the hosts two attacking options.

Scrum half Peter Kirk was on the ball in a flash, drawing the first defender before firing out a rocket like pass to his half back partner Mealiff. Gavin Doherty ran a hard line, holding the opposing out half and first centre, Mealiff then passed the ball out behind Doherty to the on rushing Shaw running on the angle, he drew the outside centre before delivering the perfect pass to Browne who, with Mehan running a great support line, stepped off his left foot leaving the opposing full back in his wake as he touched down between the sticks.

The conversion was added to allow the half time score read 29-0 in favour of the home side.

The early stages of the second half were again somewhat turgid, Wellington, appeared somewhat punch drunk from the rampaging final 10 minutes of the first period, they set about restoring some pride. It was not long before Strabane where once again in the ascendancy, sustained backs pressure saw several infringements from the away side and the Academy set up camp in their '22'.

Some quick hands from backs and forward alike saw David Shaw in half a yard of space, he needed no second invitation showing excellent agility to finish by the posts, Mealiff again converting.

The Strabane bench was now emptied to give a few of the young guns a chance to show their worth. There were impressive debuts from Finn Hampton, Reuben Orr, Bartomei Bialek and Matthew Rutherford. It also gave three of the squad's hardest working players, Jack Madden, Jonathan Gamble and Ryan Millar an opportunity to stake a claim for a jersey. They did not disappoint, as there was to be no let-up in the dominant nature of the Strabane side.

The seventh try came from quick ruck ball on the left wing, Kirk putting Ralph Mealiff into space on the half way line, and through a gap went the skipper. He carried until 5 metres short of the line when the Wellington full back put in a fantastic covering tackle, only for Mealiff to off load in contact to brother Jordan to finish superbly under the posts, which his elder brother duly converted.

Tries eight and nine were almost carbon copies of each other in style, the forward attacked the left flank with drives in tight, sucking the defenders into the breakdown.

Winger, Stephen Shields scored try number 8 when the screen plays from the centres released Shaw creating a two-on-one and selflessly the full back put Shields in to touch down in the corner, Mealiff adding the difficult conversion.

The icing on the cake was the try from debutant Reuben Orr, who charged over the line with a 10 metre run in as the Strabane centre took the short ball, identifying the visitors had anticipated the pass out the back door again.

This game would appear to set down a marker not just in the emphatic score line, more so in the clinical and often ruthless nature of the performance. Strabane Academy will travel to Belfast High in the quarter final on Saturday, January 20.


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