Stuart Hooks looks determined! Picture by Ken Redpath
CITY OF ARMAGH ………………...18
MALONE were the visitors to the Palace Grounds on Saturday and the current leaders in Division 2A cemented their top of the table position with a clinical bonus point win against hosts City of Armagh.
The Belfast side received the kick off and immediately took the game to Armagh and were rewarded with the first try of the match, with only five minutes on the clock. Centre Nathan Brown squeezed in at the left corner and Rory Campbell converted for a 7 nil lead. Two minutes later Campbell converted a penalty and Malone were 10 nil ahead. Armagh responded with their first foray into Malone territory and on 17 minutes, Cormac Fox converted a penalty to get the home side off the mark. With heavy rain now falling, Malone returned to the attack and pinned Armagh back in their 22. The visitors were awarded a 5 metre scrum and as they drove for the line, the referee awarded a penalty try to stretch Malone’s lead to 3-17.
Armagh then gifted Malone their third try on 25 minutes. A loose ball was not secured outside the Malone 22 and winger Campbell fly-hacked it down the pitch. The Armagh defence was in disarray and Malone recycled to send full-back, Jack Owens over the tryline for Campbell to convert and Malone were running away with the match at 3-24.
Armagh needed to respond and they showed some urgency, taking a tap penalty to bring play into the Malone 22. Winger Ryan Purvis was forced into touch in the corner as he went for the line in Armagh’s best attack of the match. Malone misfired at the lineout and flanker Stuart Hooks crossed for an Armagh try. The conversion was missed leaving the score 8-24.
As halftime approached it was Malone who looked likely to score next and their forwards were held up over the Armagh resulting in another 5 metre scrum. A penalty to the home side relieved the pressure and the halftime whistle went with Malone deservedly ahead, 8-24.
There were harsh words from the Armagh coaching team at the break and the home team started the second half with more determination and vigour. Winger Andrew Willis made his return after three months out with injury and prop Paul Mullen added fresh legs. Malone conceded a penalty on 43 minutes and Fox converted the kick to make the score 11-24.
A knock on by Malone broke up another attack from the visitors and Armagh counter-attacked with a strong run by Willis. The final pass went astray and Malone cleared the danger. In Armagh’s best spell of the game they put the visitors under pressure and should have scored their second try when a loose ball 2 metres from the Malone line was knocked on by the attacker.
In the wet conditions, Armagh’s handling let them down with a number of knock-ons in Malone’s 22 turning over vital possession. Armagh pushed hard to break down the well-organised Malone defence but another error gifted Malone their bonus point try. An over-ambitious pass in the Malone 22 was picked off by Jack Owens and the full back raced 80 metres for his second try of the day. Campbell’s conversion gave Malone a handsome 11-31 lead and the Belfast side were home and dry when Campbell kicked a penalty on 64 minutes, 11-34.
The Armagh side never gave up, but their efforts in the final quarter continued to be thwarted by handling errors and Malone looked threatening when in possession. On 70 minutes, Armagh broke out of defence and Malone slowed down the ball with winger, Bryans sent to the sin bin. The home team brought play up to the Malone 22 and good forward driving was rewarded with a try under the posts for flanker Robert Whitten. Purvis converted to make the score 18-34. Malone then stole possession from the restart and finished the match camped in Armagh’s 22. Andrew Willis’ comeback ended with a yellow card but Armagh held out and the final whistle went with Malone victorious, 18-34.
The Armagh coaching team were disappointed with their side’s performance on the day. “Malone were the better team over 80 minutes and Armagh’s accuracy was well below par,” stated Willie Faloon.
The team now has a week off before a tough trip away to Nenagh Ormond who hold third spot in the league table. A fourth place playoff position however is still very much in the team’s hands with five games remaining.