Coleraine 1st XV travelled to Roughfort on Saturday in search of a victory against relegation threatened Academy and their efforts were rewarded with a 34-20 win.
The four try bonus point ensured a haul of five points, in the Kukri Qualifying Section 1 and keeps the Bannsiders in the mix for All Ireland Junior Cup qualification next season.
The experienced David Andrews and Stevie Patterson returned to the Coleraine line-up having missed the victory against Cooke a fortnight ago and both players were involved when the visitors made an explosive start, scoring a fine try after only 90 seconds of action.
Andrews was the instigator, launching a searching ‘Garryowen’, which embarrassed the Academy right wing and when the chasing Niall Irwin gathered the bouncing ball on the home 10 metre line, the Patterson brothers, Stephen Douglas and Scott Caithness all handled impressively before feeding Irwin once more and the wing crossed in the left hand corner.
Andrews then proceeded to bisect the posts with a towering conversion.
It was the worst possible start for an Academy XV that has not enjoyed much success this season, but the home support was immediately encouraged by a spirited response from, in particular, the Academy forwards.
Since the turn of the year, the Coleraine scrum has been a match for any team at this level, but the early honours went the way of the home eight and their set piece superiority paved the way for a brace of successful penalty kicks by out half Cooper, in the 10th and 12th minutes, reducing the deficit to a single point.
Despite struggling to provide good quality possession from first phase, the visitors attempted to attack with width, either using Andrews’ accurate boot or through the hands. Left wing Irwin was seeing plenty of the ball and when he was halted on the Academy 22, Coleraine retained possession through half a dozen phases of play before forcing a penalty in the 17th minute and Andrews converted from in front of the posts.
Academy remained undaunted, pinning the Sandel Lodge XV back and confining play to deep within the visitor’s 22. Awarded a penalty at a scrum 10 metres out from the Coleraine line, the Belfast boys elected to scrum again. Crucially however, the tide was now beginning to turn in this department and two further scrums produced no reward before Academy was penalised for an early engagement and Andrews was able to relieve the pressure.
It was a pivotal moment in the game. From now on the Academy scrum half had to make do without his armchair and with clever variations contributing to a much improved lineout, Coleraine controlled the second quarter of the game adding two further tries before half time.
Andy Neely was first to score, after 32 minutes, charging down an attempted clearance kick outside the home 22 and controlling the ball skilfully with his feet before winning the race for a touchdown. Andrews added the conversion and then, with the half time whistle imminent and Coleraine dominant, an intense spell of pressure culminated in the out-half attacking the narrow side with a late run, inside the 22 and slicing through a stretched defence for an excellent touchdown and subsequent conversion.
The visitors began the second half with the vital fourth try clearly in their sights but were pegged back within five minutes of the restart when the home three quarter line, which had made little impact up to that point, created space for a well worked try.
Cooper and Norman Carson were the architects, the latter surging through a gap on halfway, courtesy of a neat set piece move and drawing the cover before passing to his fellow wing, Simpson who went over in the right hand corner for an unconverted try. Academy had designs on at least a losing bonus point and that likelihood increased after an hour’s play when a double penalty award brought kicker Cooper within range of the posts and he duly obliged.
It was the catalyst for an increase in the intensity of the Coleraine performance and heralded a sustained attack by the Bannsiders. The visiting back-row of Andy Neely, Douglas and James Cromie had been competing fiercely at the breakdown all afternoon and they featured strongly as the home goal-line came under threat. Several players went close to scoring before Coleraine was awarded a free kick and Caithness reacted quickly to link with the onrushing Andrews who proved to be unstoppable and crashed over to the left of the posts. The same player added the extras.
A 70th minute penalty, kicked by Cooper was replicated five minutes later by Andrews whose personal tally of 24 points was reward for a fine individual performance and a gallant Academy had the last word when Cooper landed a long range dropped goal to leave the final score 20-34.
When Alan Gourley replaced Brian Cochrane early in the second half, the Coleraine 1st XV contained three sets of brothers, Alex and Alan Gourley, Andrew and Graeme Neely and Stevie and Neil Patterson.
This weekend Coleraine 1st XV are at home to Donaghadee in the Kukri League. The Co. Down side heavily defeated Coleraine in Donaghadee earlier in the season and a very much improved Sandel Lodge XV will be keen to set the record straight on Saturday. An added incentive is that both clubs are in contention for a place in the All Ireland Junior Cup next season and defeat will almost certainly quash that ambition.
Other senior fixtures are: 3rdXV away to Donaghadee 2ndXV, 4thXV away to Armagh 3rdXV. All games K.O. 2.30pm.