The Cookstown sponsored, Coleraine 1stXV returned to winning ways, at Sandel Lodge, on Saturday defeating Academy 27-12 in the Kukri Qualifying League, Division One.
It has been an injury ravaged season for the Bannsiders and once again changes were made for this game against a side struggling to move off the bottom of the league table.
The unfortunate Daniel Ramage sustained a broken ankle against Cooke and will be out for some weeks. Also missing from this week’s pack were Kenny Calladine, Steven Douglas, Colin McNae and Andy Neely.
This meant an experimental back-row of Alex Gourley, Josh Christie and Johnny Henderson with Ronnie Caskey coming into the second row and the talismanic Jarlath Carey answering the call to the front row. The return of Carey gave a lift to the home support and behind the scrum Brian Cochrane also made a welcome return to the side starting at fullback with the promising Colin Brown making his debut on one wing and the experienced Tommy Van Wyk on the other.
It was therefore an untested selection against a side that had pushed high fliers Clogher Valley all the way last weekend. Coaches Stevie Ritchie and Richard Beggs knew a good start was imperative and within three minutes that was duly delivered.
Out half Alan Gourley was the instigator with a clean break on halfway and after he and the supporting Neil Patterson had handled, Tommy Van Wyk surged over for an unconverted try. 5-0.
There then followed an undistinguished 15 minutes of action characterised by individual errors on both sides but significantly the new-look Coleraine pack was already dominating the lineouts by this stage. Scrums, on the other hand, were unsettled, with Christie and Scott Caithness regularly forced to make the best of a bad job at the base of a wheeling scrum.
With 20 minutes played the scrum slewed round once more outside the home 22 and was reset, this time with an Academy feed. The visitors attacked down their right flank initially and then switched direction for Cooper to place a clever grubber kick through the home defensive line and left wing Simpson dived over for an equalising score. 5-5.
It provided a much needed fillip to the Belfast club, still searching for a victory in this highly competitive league, but Coleraine should have gone in front again moments later when Brian Cochrane counter attacked strongly, weaving his way through heavy traffic before passing to Brown and the young winger showed good composure carrying to the 22 where the normally reliable Neil Patterson failed to gather with the line opening up.
As it turned out, that proved to be the closest either XV came to scoring a second try during the first 40 minutes but the home side did convert penalties in the 30th and 39th minutes, courtesy of Gourley’s boot to lead 11-5 at the break.
Academy showed the greater urgency on the resumption of play and too often Coleraine kicks from defence invited the back three of their opponents to counter attack. Right wing Carson had previously threatened with ball in hand before he collected once more, under no pressure, in the 50th minute and weaved his way through a static defence for a fine individual try. Cooper’s conversion gave his side the lead for the first time in the game. 11-12.
Unfortunately for the visitors that was as good as it got and seven minutes later Van Wyk went in for his second score of the day. The move began with Stevie Patterson carrying powerfully into the Academy half and when quick ball was secured at the breakdown Alan Gourley and Christie attacked, running right, the big forward giving the final pass for the supporting winger to charge over. Gourley added the extras with a fine kick from wide out. 18-12.
A brace of penalties, in quick succession from Gourley, the second of which followed strong running from Henderson and Arnie Hogg pushed the Bannsiders further ahead but what may well have impressed the home coaches most, could be the manner in which the Coleraine defence fought to deny the opposition as they laid siege to the Coleraine line in the closing stages. The visitors threw everything at the Sandel Lodge men during a hectic 10 minute spell but could find no way through and the game ended with Coleraine back in Academy territory and Gourley slotting his fifth penalty of the match. Full time score Coleraine 27-12 Academy.
This week Coleraine Firsts travel for a friendly at Limavady and return to League action away to Donaghadee the following week, 8 December.
Coleraine First XV: Cochrane.B.; Brown.C., Patterson.N., Patterson.S., VanWyk. T.; Gourley.Alan., Caithness.S.; Carey. J., Evans. S., Hogg.A.; Cochrane.R., Caskey.R.; Henderson.J., Christie.J., Gourley.Alex. Subs. Archibald.C.(for Patterson. N.) Stirling.A.(for Caskey.)