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Portora Medallion lose out in tight tie

The flying Robert Balacoune has his progress stopped in spectacular style as he’s ankle-tapped by the covering defender

Portora Royal School  0

Ballymena Academy  8

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Last Saturday Portora Medallion lost narrowly to Ballymena Academy, one of the top eight seeded teams to have joined the competition in the fourth round.

The Antrim side is coached by Aaron Moore, a former teacher at Portora and flanker for Enniskillen 1st XV for several seasons. They won the toss and asked Portora to play into the glare of the low winter sun.

From the kick-off, play settled in the Portora half but the home team’s defence, led by Keys, Humes and Ballantine in mid-field and McCrae and Clyde out wide, pressed up quickly to snuff out successive attacks. Josh Kennedy led from the front and had one ‘barn-storming’ run in particular to reverse the tables. Shortly afterwards Lewis Miller would follow up a clearance kick to envelop the Ballymena full-back and drive him back a full 10m.

Portora attacked and Ballantine broke the line just over half way, running a good angle from the centre. Neither team was able to sustain such attacks though, as both defences reorganised quickly and effectively if there was a breach.

The Portora forwards were playing well in the tight, with Khew, McCabe and Clements having the better of the scrums. Kennedy and Palmer were winning their own ball and spoiling or stealing a share of Ballymena’s. Crawford and Dane, both playing up a year from the Under 14s, had their usual combative, quality performances. Dane added some clever box kicks to his repertoire and Crawford, along with Egerton, was ever present in the loose.

The first half yielded only three points, with the away side converting a penalty. This was a reflection of how competitive the game was and the commitment of both defences.

As in the previous round, Portora gained possession at the start of the second half, with Khew fielding the kick off and carrying the ball directly to the opposition. The ball was retained well for a number of phases and the home side dominated the opening period, which would again be the turning point of the game. This time the pressure wasn’t translated into points, however, despite Clyde and others coming within inches of crossing the line to take the lead.

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Ballymena forced a turnover and cleared their lines. Play was reestablished in the middle of the field and now it was the away team that would string a number of attacks together. The home defence was stretched too far when an over lap appeared on the left and  Ballymena moved the ball swiftly to score in the corner. The conversion was missed from wide out but Portora now needed two scores.

A sin-binning reduced the home team to 14 men, but they fought valiantly to stay in the game. Each time Baloucoune received the ball the crowd felt that a score was possible.

Andrew Khew was forced to retire with a knee injury after a very good performance. He was replaced by another player eligible for next year’s squad, Jack Wilson, who was straight into the action, helping Portora to win their scrum.

Both teams had opportunities in the closing minutes and when the final whistle went at the end of another pulsating game the seeded team celebrated as if they had won the final.  Portora  had certainly won their respect, as they now look forward to a quarter final in the Plate, along with the other teams beaten in Round 4.

Unfortunately their Captain, Josh Kennedy, later learned that he had broken his thumb towards the end of the game. Typically he had played on, despite the pain, and could not have contributed more to his team or the game.

Phil Beddard is the teacher and coach in charge of the squad and he paid tribute to the work that the group, including Ashley Cathcart and Jack Wilson who benched on Saturday, have made to progress this far. Despite losing, he felt this  was another step forward as a  team and in the individual players’ development.

He commented that: “They now realise that they can compete against teams like Ballymena Academy and expect to be able to win. We’re disappointed but very proud of the boys. We’ll regroup now and reset our goals toward the quarter final in two weeks time.”

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