RUGBY:Firsts get the new season off and running with a bonus point win at Clogher Valley

COLERAINE had a dream start to the season on Saturday with a bonus point win at Clogher Valley.

The new look squad were tested by a very strong and persistent Clogher Valley side, which held the lead for much of the match, and a last minute try in the corner tipped the balance, bringing jubilation for the Bannsiders.

Speaking after the match Coleraine coach Stevie Ritchie was elated with the result. He said: “This is the best possible start to the league season – a win at Clogher Valley and a bonus point into the bargain.

“It was a close match and it could have gone either way but hats off to the boys - they kept their concentration and showed their persistence and determination. They kept going right to the end and got the rewards.

“We have a lot of changes in the side and everyone stood up to the mark and played their hearts out. Great spirit. Great effort. A great job well done.”

The match started well for Coleraine and within five minutes Dean Rankin, playing in the centre, made a decisive break and scored. The conversion was just wide in very blustery conditions.

Clogher Valley were keen to make their mark as well and with 15 minutes gone they made a strong break from their own half to score a converted try. Coleraine’s Nial Irwin also went over for what seemed a definite try but it was disallowed by the referee.

Just on the half hour Coleraine full back Alex Gourley showed great pace and agility to slice through the home defence when he got possession in his own 22. He outpaced everyone and scored under the posts. David Andrews slotted the conversion for the extra points, putting Coleraine into a 7-12 lead.

Just before the break Paul Roxborough was adjudged to have committed a high tackle and went to the sin-bin for ten minutes. At half time Coleraine still held the lead.

The second half started with a resurgent Clogher Valley storming the Coleraine defence and within two minutes they scored a converted try in the corner, giving them a two point advantage.

Things seemed somewhat bleak for Coleraine when eight minutes into the half Jonny Henderson was shown a yellow card for what was adjudged a late tackle, bringing the visitors back to 14 men for another ten minute spell. Clogher Valley picked up three points from the resulting penalty, the score 17-12.

During this phase Coleraine started to assert their authority and despite being a man down Brian Cochrane punished a simple handling error on the part of the home team and sprinted away from his own half, leaving the opposition in his wake, to score under the posts. Andrews was on target for the conversion. 17-19.

A penalty opportunity five minutes later saw the Andrews attempt blow wide on the strong blustery breeze but Clogher Valley were on target a few minutes later to pick up three points and retake the lead.

Just after the half hour mark the home side were again putting Coleraine under all sorts of pressure and a strong surging forwards attack brought them to the corner and a well worked try. The conversion put Clogher Valley in a strong 8-point lead. Irwin was injured and was replaced by Scott Caithness.

With five minutes to go Coleraine went on the offensive. Andrews took full advantage when Coleraine took a quick penalty, crashing through the defence to score near the corner. His conversion attempt was blown backwards in the wind and missed target. Coleraine now trailed by just three points at 27-24.

As play restarted the Clogher Valley side went to 14 men when a poor tackle in the Coleraine 22 resulted in a yellow card. With only a few minutes left on the clock Clogher Valley had a penalty attempt but again the wind played its role and the ball drifted wide.

Clogher Valley seemed to be on course for a win but Coleraine had other ideas. The visitors won possession as Clogher Valley attacked into the Coleraine half. Full-back Gourley got the ball and with a forceful, jinking run, burst through the defence, evading the attention of several defenders and scored a great try. The conversion was lost to the wind. 27-29.

As the whistle blew Coleraine celebrated a famous victory, perseverance and skill bringing home the result. It was a welcome reply to two loses to Clogher Valley last season, both coming in the dying minutes of those games.

This weekend the action returns to Coleraine when the First XV take on Portadown in what is certain to be a close fought encounter. The match starts at 2.30pm and there is an invitation to everyone to come along and support the team.

Coleraine First XV: A McLaughlin, P Brown, M Hunter, D Ramage, R Cochrane, S Douglas, J Crummie, J Chrisite, P Roxborough, D Andrews (Capt), N Irwin, D Rankin, B Cochrane, J Henderson, A Gourley. Subs: S Caithness, A Hogg.