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Ulster Carpets U18 Cup Semi-Final 21st April 2018

Scorers: C.McCann(1*Try), Molloy(1*Try), Scullion(1*Try), McGlone(1*Try), Friel(1*Conv), Kearns(1*Conv)


The last time Randalstown and Rainey U18s met, the conditions could not have been more different.  But, although the final outcome was the same, this time, Rainey had to work extremely hard to overcome their opponents to reach the final of the Ulster U18 Cup.  Trailing 18-7 with 20 minutes to go, their season looked to be over, as the home side dominated both territory and the scoreboard.  However, they finally got their act together to score three tries and run out 18 - 24 winners, earning themselves a season decider against Armagh at the Kingspan Stadium next Saturday.


On a glorious day for running rugby, Randalstown kicked off with a strong breeze to their backs, and although the early exchanges were fairly even, the home side soon took charge, with their backs kicking intelligently to pressurise the Rainey back three.  Twice Rainey broke
into the Randalstown half, but the drives by No8 Molloy and prop Evans came to nothing, as the forwards were guilty of poor ball retention and Randalstown were quick to regain the initiative, driving Rainey back into their 22'.


Frantically, Rainey held them at bay, but were unable to break out until they were awarded a penalty when a Randalstown forward practically swan-dived over a ruck. Out-half Friel's clearance kick made minimal distance into the breeze, and Rainey were soon under the cosh again.  Severe Randalstown pressure culminated in an attacking scrum just to the
right of the Rainey posts, and when they flashed it wide, the centre broke through some ineffectual tackling to open the scoring.  The conversion was good.


From the re-start, Rainey again made things difficult for themselves, when a Randalstown clearance kick deep into the Rainey half was allowed to bounce, and they had to scramble the ball into touch for a 5m lineout.  They managed to catch and clear their lines, but when Randalstown ran the ball straight back at them, the tackling was frankly abysmal, and the 'Town had their second try of the day.


With the traffic going all one way, Rainey seemed unable to do anything right.  When they carried into contact, Randalstown stripped the ball away.  When they kicked, the ball was easily fielded, and returned with interest, peppering the Rainey back three.  With the Rainey supporters praying for half-time and the chance to play with the wind, suddenly things came good.


A series of drives finally worked and they won a 5m scrum.  Winning their own ball easily, it was passed to Feathers who drove strongly towards the posts and tied up three defenders.  Scrum-half Murray quickly fed his backs, and with the overlap created, full-back McCann had a straight run-in to score in the corner.  Friel landed a fantastic touchline conversion into the wind, and unbelievably, Rainey were back in it.  


However, from the restart, they were once again on trouble.  As they tried to run the ball out of their 22', the referee adjudged there had been a crossing infringement, and Randalstown, gifted with the simplest of opportunities, took the points.  The half ended with Rainey attacking the Randalstown line once more, but the move came to nothing.  


As the second half started, Rainey's hoped-for advantage vanished, with the wind changing direction to once more favour Randalstown.  They continued to press Rainey, winning another penalty for their efforts, which was landed with a great kick.  At 18 -7, the game looked over, as nothing Rainey tried seemed to work - until it did.  Suddenly Rainey were a different team, as passes finally stuck, tackles were made and crucially, when they carried into contact, the ball was recycled time after time.  The addition of Kearns and Diamond from the bench allowed a re-organisation of the backs, and, attacking from different angles, theybegan to penetrate deeper and deeper into the Randalstown half.


Slowly, they ground their way into the Randalstown 22', going through the phases and knocking Randalstown back.  A great carry by Molloy towards the posts took a full four defenders to bring him down a metre short, but two phases later when he went again, he wasn't to be denied, crossing the line with a mass of bodies atop him.  Kearns slotted the easy conversion, and Rainey were back in the hunt.


Again, they attacked relentlessly, with great runs by Kearns and Scullion, and carries by the back row of Molloy, McCann and Leacock.  Now Randalstown were rattled, as, for the first time in the match, they began to doubt themselves.  Under pressure, they began to concede penalties, but Rainey were not for taking the points, and eventually the dam burst when Scullion crossed the line to take Rainey into the lead with seven minutes to go.


From the restart, they pounded forward again, winning a penalty to the left of the posts. Eschewing the points on offer, they opted for the scrum and the chance to go through phases to wind down the clock.  Randalstown continued to defend heroically and eventually cleared their lines with a kick to halfway.  The ball was immediately fielded and sent right to winger Diamond, who scampered up the wing, leaving bodies in his wake.  With the referee signalling time-up, the Rainey supporters were screaming for their team to hoof the ball into touch, but the boys were having none of it.  Once more, they recycled and drove for the line with hooker McGlone forcing his way over in the corner to round-off the perfect comeback to what was an epic match and a great spectacle for the neutral observer.


Next week in the final at Kingspan Stadium, Rainey will take on perennial rivals Armagh.  So far this season, Rainey have beaten Armagh twice in the league, but lost out to them in the semi-final of the Nutty Krust floodlit competition, so once again it promises to be a fantastic contest.