Poor start but great finish from Under-19s

So what do you do when your opposition arrives with a team sheet that reads like a Who’s Who in Ulster and Irish rugby?

If you are Coleraine U19s you simply treat it like any other game and you go out to win and that’s exactly what this eager young side did against such illustrious competition in a friendly fixture played in great winter rugby conditions despite the previous week’s weather. According to a proud but often frustrated Coleraine U19s Head Coach Brian Kneeland: “We didn’t start the game but by jove we certainly finished it.”

Regrettably the rest of the CRFC Youth section had to sit out this weekend as their trip away to Ballyclare was cancelled due to waterlogged pitches.

U19s Coleraine 10 Randalstown 7

If Randalstown thought they were in for a walk in the park, they were wrong and if Coleraine thought Randalstown were going to treat the game like a walk in the park, they were also wrong and that was what the first half of this pre-Christmas friendly more or less looked like with both sides unsure of each other’s approach.

Randalstown only managed to put one a converted try over on their hosts during a bruising first half and only for some stout defending by Coleraine, the score might have been higher.

Half time required some attitude-adjustment according to Coaches Kneeland and McClean and the line from the bench was that Randalstown are treating this like a tough game, it’s time for Coleraine to wake up and do the same.

From the start of the second half, Coleraine upped their pace and as they say, it was ‘game on’. In the pack an inspirational No 8 Simon McClean, recovered from an early season hand injury, led with some great ball carrying, attacking the Randalstown line, while front row men prop Andrew Thompson and hooker Dean Laverty manned up in the pack and began stealing more ball from the ground.

Sparking in the backline were pacy centre Jack McGonigle and playing his usual wrecking ball runs, outside centre Conor Simpson, while both wings Matty McCullough who according to Coach Kneeland had a fantastic game and Jason Balmer were causing all sorts of trouble for the visitors. MOM open side flanker Thomas Hardy simply never stopped working to earn the praise of both Coaches.

Sadly Conor Simpson’s trademark aggression seemed to backfire when he was replaced through a tough shoulder injury. Replacement centre David Magee turned the game around with 15 minutes remaining, from the end with great ball in hand around a Coleraine maul to eventually get over the Randalstown line to give the home side a boost. With the clock ticking, some great pressure from Coleraine began to pay off with a good chip and chase resulting in a Coleraine scrum from which they won a penalty. Up stepped a quick thinking McClean to quick tap and break the Randalstown defence and give Coleraine a hard won and deserved winning try.

Randalstown will be disappointed to have lost this one especially with their pedigree line, up but Coleraine can take heart in standing up to such a good side and look forward to continuing to build on what has been a frustrating season thus far as they look towards their next away fixture to Ballyclare on January 12th.

Overall the Christmas holiday should help all four youth sides rest a few key injuries while the pitches also get a well earned break. It only remains for all Coaches and staff at Coleraine Rugby Club to wish all their players and supporters a very Happy Christmas and a rugby-packed new year. Thanks also to our two local papers and their Sports Editors for their continued support as youth rugby goes from strength to strength in the Avenue.