COLERAINE came close at Cooke on Saturday but a last gasp try for the home side clinched the win for them.
There was slight compensation in a losing bonus point but Coleraine were disappointed not to claim at least a draw against the Belfast side. The Bannsiders faced a heavier and more experienced pack and yet again had a number of last minute personnel changes on top of ongoing injury issues, leading to a somewhat under strength and out of position team.
The match at Shaws Bridge saw Coleraine with the first scoring opportunity. Four minutes in Coleraine were on the attack and were awarded a penalty 30 metres out. Alan Gourley’s conversion attempt was just wide.
Daniel Ramage left the pitch with an ankle injury, replaced by Andrew Neely, necessitating further positional changes in the pack.
Both sides had opportunities but seemed unable to capitalise on their try scoring potential. On 9 minutes and 13 minutes Cooke took advantage of some Coleraine indiscipline to claim two successful penalty kicks and a 6-0 lead.
With 15 minutes on the clock Coleraine were on the attack when a penalty was awarded. Gourley was on target with his 30 metre effort.
Cooke again scored from a penalty minutes from the end of the half and the final move of the half saw Gourley attempt a drop goal but it was off-target. The score at the break was 9-3 to Cooke.
From the restart Cooke went further in front with yet another on-target penalty five minutes in. With fifteen minutes gone and Cooke on the attack, Neil Patterson was shown the yellow card but the home side missed the posts and the chance of three more points.
Coleraine, although down to 14 men, were galvanised into action. Attacking from the restart they were soon on the Cooke try line.
Coleraine rolled forward from a scrum, making good yards before going to ground. Scrum half Scott Caithness spotted a gap and dived through the defence to make the touch down under the posts. Gourley slotted through the sticks to narrow the score to 12-10.
Cooke then went on the offensive and after a period of sustained pressure used the overlap effectively to score in the corner. The conversion drifted wide.
Just on the half hour Coleraine made an incisive move. Alex Gourley gathered a high, hanging ball in his own 22 and sprinted to the halfway line.
Andrew Neely was on hand to receive the ball and break through the Cooke pack before feeding the ball to Alan Gourley. Gourley sold a classy high speed dummy to evade the attention of the Cooke defence and sprint for the line and the score. He also converted leaving the score 17-all.
Cooke hit back and Coleraine put in a mighty defence as Cooke attacked in a protracted series of scrums. Twice the home side breached the try line only to knock on under pressure on the first attempt and then to have the ball held up under the posts on the second effort.
In the final minute of extra time Cooke were still being denied when Coleraine gave away a penalty 20 metres out and at a difficult angle. Cooke kicked for what seemed to be the deciding move of the game only to hit the upright.
The ball rebounded into play and Coleraine were caught napping by a fast moving Cooke attack. The initial surge was held out but when the ball was let lose along the back line Cooke benefitted from the overlap and scored an unconverted try.
The final result, Cooke winning 22-17, was a disappointment for the Coleraine men who had fought a determined battle throughout the match. The losing bonus point was scant reward but could be useful when the final battle for league positions comes about in the spring.
Next Saturday, 24 November, Coleraine entertain Academy in what promises to be a close encounter. The Thirds are also at home to Dromore Seconds.
The day is given added interest as the reunion match between the “Old farts and Young farts” takes place before the pre-match lunch with guest speaker Stewart McKinney lined up to entertain the diners. Places for the lunch are limited and must be booked by Thursday evening. Don’t miss it.
Coleraine First XV: A Hogg, S Evans, K Calladine, D Ramage, R Cochrane, S Douglas, C McNae, J Christie, S Caithness, Alan Gourley, P McGonigle, Stephen Patterson, Neil Patterson, J Henderson, Alex Gourley. Subs: A Neely, L George.