Coleraine won their semi final Crawford Cup match 30-5 at home to Enniskillen on Saturday to set up a third consecutive final at Ravenhill against familiar foes Ballynahinch.
The game didn’t start well for the Sandel lodge men, as they conceded early penalties down to ill-discipline, but were lucky as Enniskillen didn’t capitalise on their early pressure.
Coleraine fell behind to the first points of the game as miscommunication from the backs led to Enniskillen’s full back scoring in the corner to take an early 5-0 lead, but they failed with the conversion. Coleraine heads were down at this point and the nerves were starting to show, but they soon got the perfect response in the form of second row Graeme Neely, who led the fight back with a strong charging run at the Enniskillen forwards to gain valuable ground.
Scrum Half Andy McKnight managed to find Cameron Jinks, who fed a quick ball to centre Tommy Van Wyk who showed his experience under immense pressure to find winger Stephen Callaghan who turned on the gas to score Coleraine’s first try of the game to make it 5-5 with Jinks missing narrowly with the conversion after 22 minutes gone.
Coleraine increased the pressure on Enniskillen with forwards with Andrew Hutchinson and Stephen Dickey punching holes through the Enniskillen defence and in turn the backs had some nice link up play which led to their second try after Nigel Hall took the ball off centre Brian Cochrane to burst down the line, but rather take the try in the corner he cleverly offloaded inside to scrum half Andy McKnight who made no mistake by diving over to give Coleraine a 10-5 lead at the break.
Coleraine started the second half as they had towards the end of the first half by dominating the majority of play. The lineout was superb throughout the game, jumper Ronnie Caskey taking control thanks to Hooker Mark Hunter’s pin point accuracy throwing. Ten minutes had passed in the second half before Coleraine decided to make changes by bringing on Archie Kettle and Greg Neely. This had an immediate effect as the pace of the game picked up and Coleraine stepped up a gear.
Coleraine’s attack broke once again with some fast free flowing rugby. The best try of the game soon followed, when scrum half Archie Kettle picked out the ever present Paul Shiels, who gave a quick offload tight to the line for centre Nigel Hall who again showed great awareness as he pulled off a great switch with winger Harry Tate who swooped in the give Coleraine a 15-5 lead. This was followed by Jinks’ conversion right between the sticks to take a well deserved 17-5 lead.
Coleraine followed this up with two further tries late on in the game. Prop Aidy Nevin produced the pass of the game, picking up from the base of the ruck and going on the blind side he drew in the winger and fed the ball to captain Paul Shiels who sold the Enniskillen full back with a trade mark side step before bursting away into the corner for his side’s fourth try of the game. The final try came with eight minutes left on the clock, back row Greg Neely made a great break, on his shoulder was prop Andrew Gilchrist, who charged into the opponents 22, scrum half kettle found the ever available Dickey, who clearly wanted to make up for his earlier dismissal by showing great strength and pure grit as well as some help from veterans John Boyd and Andrew Hutchinson was then able to power his way through the Enniskillen defence and touch down.
With minutes to go there was still just enough time for Alan Gourley to calmly slot a penalty between the posts thanks to good work from prop Arnie Hogg and hooker Hunter who had a great game both in the scrums and defence when called upon.
The final whistle blew and Coleraine 2XV will now travel back to Ravenhill on Easter Tuesday to defend their Crawford Cup crown against old foes Ballynahinch Thirds, in what is sure to be a mouth watering encounter.
Captain shiels said after the game: “It was a bit of a nervy start to the game, we had problems with training during the week which didn’t help but once we settled everything went to plan. Now we can look towards the final and concentrate on preparing for that.
“Obviously we will go into the final as underdogs because ‘Hinch are a great side! They have only lost one game all season and that was to us.”
There was great support on Saturday for Coleraine and the coaches and players ask that this continues calling for everyone to make the trip down to Ravenhill on the Easter Tuesday.
Team: A.Nevin, M.Hunter, A.Hogg, G,Neely, S,Dickey, H,Tate, A,Hutchinson, A,McKnight, C,Jinks, S,Callaghan, T,Van Wyk, B,Cochrane, N,Hall, P,Shiels, (Subs) A,Gilchrist, J,Boyd, G,Neely, A,Kettle, A,Gourley.