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SONI Ulster Premiership Section 1 21st December 2019
Scorers: Fitzsimons(1*Try), Roberts(1*Try), McMurray(2*Try), M.McCusker(1*Try), Brockschmidt(1*Try), Magrath(3*Conv)
Photos
 
Hatrick Park was the place to be on Saturday when referee Alan Clark's final whistle sounded, leaving Rainey Old Boys SONI Ulster Premiership Section 1 champions.  Players and spectators alike were ecstatic as Dungannon man Gary Leslie, President of the Ulster Branch, presented acting captain Jason Bloomfield with the Stevenson Shield.
 
 
Having won Section 2 last season, Rainey were among the big boys for the first time, and rank outsiders in this competition, but they have risen to the challenge in style, winning all four of the games so far with a bonus point, to claim the title a week early.  Malone, who entertain Rainey on the last day of this league, are also rans, having lost at Eaton Park.
 

 

While professional players contracted to Ulster cannot play in this competition, causing Banbridge to make some changes, it does not detract from an outstanding achievement for a small club.  The unavailability of Ronan McCusker led to Rainey making a couple of positional switches up front and bringing in Tommy O'Hagan after his term with Ulster and Ballynahinch.  Conor Fitzsimons returned from injury and was a major contender for Man of the Match

 

 
Despite the 36-5 scoreline, this was a very good contest.  Banbridge were on top before Rainey gained a foothold in the game with their scrum and forward drives serving them well.  It was only at the threequarter stage that they could afford to relax a little.  In recent outings, they have struggled to convert possession into points, but their finishing was clinical on this occasion.  Their tackling has been consistently impressive all season, in this game it was out of this world.
 
On a surprisingly good surface after all the rain and no wind to contend with, the scene was set for an open game and Banbridge soon showed what they could do behind the scrum.  Seeking to put width on the ball at every opportunity, they had Rainey in trouble before running in the opening score of the game on seven minutes.  Some slick interpassing down the left created an excellent try and showed that Rainey simply could not make any unforced errors or fall off any tackles.  After 11 minutes, Rainey found a promising field position and managed to win lineout ball on the visitors' throw.  A series of drives from the tail, led by hooker Hume, created an opening for Fitzsimons to go in at the posts.  The conversion by Magrath, playing against his former club, nudged them ahead.
 
 
Play swung from end to end, Rainey's scrummaging starting to give them the edge.  On 34 minutes, a penalty took them up to the Banbridge 22' and a big drive from the tail split the Banbridge eight.  Another surge took them close to the line, leaving Roberts,operating on the flank, to swivel and crash over for a vital try.  A mistake led to Bratton seeing yellow for pulling down a maul and Roberts brought off a timely tackle when Banbridge looked like breaking through.  With the last kick of the half, Magrath was inches wide with a fifty yard shot at goal.
 
 
A sensational try almost directly from the restart gave Rainey added confidence.  No8 Brockschmidt fielded a high clearance close to the touchline on halfway to charge into the opposition and set up quick ball, which was moved across field.  Fitzsimons left three defenders standing as he poured through into the 22' to find co-centre McMurray on his shoulder.  With the line in sight, there was no stopping him as the cover closed in to try to keep him out.  A long range penalty was inches short before Brockschmidt was yellow carded for a high tackle just as Bratton was preparing to return.
 
 
The Rainey scrum went from strength to strength, even when replacements were made, and some superb tackling prevented Banbridge from countering from deep.  Some of the backs joined in when Banbridge were driven back right to their own line and when play moved across field, prop O'Hagan was denied before Michael McCusker supplied the finish.
 
 
With Roberts back at hooker, Rainey never slackened and a long penalty and lineout ball allowed the pack to go through the phases to create a second try for McMurray.  The Co.Down men must have been longing for the final whistle when some great rugby ended with Magrath finding wing Moran with a long scoring pass.  The try was ruled out for a forward pass, but the pack pushed the Banbridge scrum off their own ball, presenting Brockschmidt with the simple task od picking up to dot down for try number six.
 
 
Team: M.O'Neill, M.Connolly, C.Fitzsimons, D.McMurray, C.Moran, T.O'Hagan, C.Hume, F.Quinn, J.McCusker, A.Bratton, J.McAuley, B.Roberts, C.Brockschmidt.    Replacements: K.Donaghy, M.McCusker, J.Bresland, A.McSwiggan, N.Jeffers.