Following success in their Hawkins Cup match with Larne the previous week, the Maxol-sponsored Carrick 1st XV continued their winning start to the 2018/19 season with a 39 points to 35 away victory over Armagh II in the Kukri Conference League, Division1 on Saturday 25th August.
In a repeat of last season’s high scoring encounter, both sides scored five tries and the difference was once again down to kicks with Carrick coming out on the right side on this occasion thanks to Adam White’s excellent goal- kicking. In the summer conditions, both sides showed signs of start of season rustiness, combining some excellent attacking rugby with elementary errors. Carrick had some difficulty with the referee’s interpretation of events in the tackle area and, in the first half, were pinged for high tackles on too many occasions. That said, this was a very creditable performance from the visitors considering that two yellow cards meant they played for twenty minutes of the game a man down and lost both Ross Crymble and Johnny Sheriff to injuries, with back-rower Nathan Greenwood having to deputise for Sheriff in the centre for the last fifteen minutes.
For Carrick, half-backs Conor Cambridge and David Carse had excellent games, the former with his sniping runs and support play which earned him two tries and the latter contributing a number of line breaks and some excellent excellent out of hand kicking. Johnny Sheriff, until his unfortunate injury, added an edge to the attack- and got two tries- while Fionn McCormack was rock solid in defence at full-back and also contributed to the attacking effort. In the pack, Captain Ryan McGonigle was prominent as always while Stuart Currie and Chris Rodgers carried strongly and contributed their share of the tacking duties. Ryan Gibson had a good League debut at blind-side despite having to spend time off the field because of prop substitutions following the yellow cards. The scrum was solid, and at times dominant, thanksto the efforts of Paul Greenaway, Stuart Cheshire, Alan Whitley and James Graham in the front row.
Carrick started well and took the lead after five minutes with a penalty goal converted by Adam White. Five minutes later they extended their lead with an excellent team try.This came off a turn-over in their own half from which the ball was carried initially by Ryan McGonigle, then taken on by Fionn McCormack ,who split the Armagh defence, and fed Conor Cambridge who was on hand to beat the last defender and get the touch-down. Adam White added the conversion points to give the visitors a 10 points to nil lead. Armagh hit back quickly though when some poor Carrick defending allowed their outside centre to take an off-load and go too easily through the mid-field to score under the posts. The try was converted to narrow the gap to three points once again. As the game moved into the third quarter, Carrick increased their lead when, following a strong scrum just inside the Armagh half, Johnny Sheriff broke through in mid-field and chipped into the in-goal area for David Carse to touch down. The try was not converted and Carrick now led by 15 points to 7. Within minutes though the hosts had reduced the gap to just one point when, with Carrick having received the first of their yellow cards, they ran a penalty and, after going through a couple of phases near the Carrick line, their No 8 went over. The try was converted to leave the visitors with just a 15 points to 14 lead. This remained the position until half-time despite a couple of forays by both sides.
The early stages of the second half were scrappy, with both sides finding it difficult to keep control of the ball. However, Carrick extended their lead after fifty minutes when Armagh lost control of the ball in mid-field on half-way and Adam White fly-hacked through, gathered and set up a ruck from which Carrick took the ball through several phases before Conor Cambridge darted over under the posts. Adam White added the extras to give Carrick a 22 points to 14 lead. This became 29-14 virtually from the re-start when David Carse put a great kick deep into the Armagh 22 and, when the home side’s defenders failed to control the ball, Johnny Sheriff was on hand to gather and dive over. Adam White added the conversion points. Then, ten minutes later, with Carrick once again down to fourteen men be cause of a yellow card, the visitors further extended their lead when Johnny Sheriff went over under the posts for his second try following an Armagh turn-over and a break by David Carse. Adam White once again converted to leave Carrick with a seemingly unassailable lead of 36 points to 14 with just twenty minutes remaining. But such was the nature of the game – with a lot of loose play and plenty of mistakes by both sides – it didn’t feel as though Carrick were safe and so it proved. With the impact of the two yellow cards and the injuries on the visitors’ energy levels becoming obvious, Armagh began to strike back.
In the sixty-third minute a mid-field break brought them a try under the posts, with the conversion taking their total 21 points, and they followed this with a try on seventy minutes when their out-half went over following an attack down the left and a switch into mid-field. This try was also converted and the score was now 36 points to 28 in Carrick’s favour but the momentum was now very much with the home side. However, following the re-start, Armagh conceded a penalty and Adam White settled Carrick nerves somewhat by converting to extend the lead to eleven points. Carrick held out against an increasingly dominant home side until the final minute when the Armagh full-back stepped a couple of Carrick defenders to score. The conversion made the score 39 points to 35 in the visitors’ favour but, to Carrick’s relief, the fifth Armagh try was to prove to be the final act of the match.
This was a performance of character by a Carrick side afflicted as they were by injuries, difficulties with the referees interpretations and falling foul of two yellow card decisions. Certainly, there were too many errors – and the mid-field defensive organisation needs to be addressed – but there were many positives, not least in some of the individual performances from veterans as well the younger members of the team. Next week Carrick start their Kukri Division1 League campaign with a home fixture against Enniskillen who are always dangerous opponents and will be looking to bounce back after a home defeat by Ballyclare at the week-end.
The Carrick team which faced Armagh was:-
F. McCormack; B. Alexander, J. Sheriff (N. Greenwood), A. White, D. Moore; D. Carse, C. Cambridge; S. Cheshire (J. Graham), A. Whitley, P. Greenaway, C. Rodgers, S. Currie, R. Gibson, R. Crymble, R.McGonigle (Capt)