Header2014 IRFC

1st XV win 26-20 at Dungannon - tough one!!


On Saturday 10 February 2024 Instonians travelled to Stevenson Park to play Dungannon looking to maintain their 9-point lead over Wanderers at the top of the table. Excellent Dungannon President Richie Weir gave a very warm welcome to the travelling Instonian party at a top class pre match lunch including an entertaining Q&A with Dungannon legends Willie Anderson, Paddy Johns and Tyrone Howe.

With it being an Ulster derby and the rivalry between the 2 clubs this was sure to be a big test for Instonians as every team wants to be the one to stop the winning run and Dungannon had been the wrong side of 4 very narrow scorelines which could have had them in a play-off position which they had achieved the season before when they came so close to promotion to 2A.

The conditions at kick off were perfect for running rugby with bright sunshine and hardly any wind.

14:32 Dungannon 3 – Instonians 0

From the kick off you could tell that Dungannon were really up for this as, while Instonians fielded the kick off and immediately went into their familiar pattern of keeping the ball in hand with willing support runners, Dungannon literally smashed the 1st ruck and won a penalty at that breakdown in front of the posts just outside the Instonians 22. Their 10 slotted the 3 points on offer and Dungannon had drawn 1st blood.

14:46 Dungannon 3 – Instonians 0

Both sides tested the oppositions defences which held firm and then 10 minutes in we got the 1st scrum on Instonians 10 metre line with their put in. Instonians put down an early marker with a big scrum and the resultant penalty. Richie McMaster at 10 for Instonians put in a great kick to find touch on the Dungannon 22 on Instonians left on the clubhouse side of the pitch.

Off the driving maul Instonians 9 Rhys O’Donnell made a great break and Dungannon conceded a penalty in front of the posts. Instonians declined the easy 3 points to level up the match in pursuit of more with a kick for a line out 10 metres from the Dungannon line still on the clubhouse side.

They moved the ball right off the line out towards the posts and then snapped the ball left but captain Mark Keane on the left wing was tackled close the line and Dungannon jackaled in to get the relieving penalty.

Instonians attacked again and went through a very good passage of controlled continuity between forwards and backs before releasing the backline and fullback Bradley McNamarra was well tackled close to the Dungannon line on the clubhouse side of the pitch.

14:58 Dungannon 3 – Instonians 7

It was clear from the early stages that Instonians had Dungannon under real pressure in the scrums regardless of whose put in it was. The Dungannon 8, however, was adept at breaking quickly from the base as his scrum was retreating.

Instonians tried to get the ball wide at every opportunity. To us the conditions were perfect for our brand of open running rugby but we let ourselves down on several occasions with long miss passes not reaching their targets or trying to force the pass when it was not on rather than just keep hold of the ball and recycle.

Dungannon put a searching kick up into the Instonians 22 which was fielded by captain Mark Keane who counter attacked and put in a very good kick and chase over the top of the onrushing Dungannon defence and when Instonians gathered possession David Whitten threw a superb wide pass out left to 13 Bevan Prinsloo who was up in support and he beat the last man to score in the left hand corner with Richie McMaster adding a very good conversion on the wrong side of the pitch for a left footed kicker.

At this stage Anton Lupari in his 1st match back after injury was replaced at prop by Schalk Van Der Merwe.

15:00 Dungannon 6 – Instonians 7

Dungannon kicked deep from the restart and Instonians immediately went to run the ball back but they were penalised at the breakdown in front of their own posts on their 22 and Dungannon had no hesitation in taking the 3 points on offer.

15:13 Dungannon 6 – Instonians 14

This was a real contest with both sides having to defend really well and the tackle count was huge on both sides with hardly a tackle missed but just before half time it was Instonians who broke the deadlock.

From just outside the Dungannon 22 Rhys O’Donnell ran infield from the left and shaped to pass to his right but instead gave a no look pass behind his back on the inside to Bevan Prinsloo who made good ground and Dungannon were forced into conceding a penalty. Again Instonians declined the 3 points on offer and kicked for a line out 10 metres out on Instonians right.

From the line out the Instonians driving maul was well held by Dungannon but Instonians moved the ball left and David Whitten with a great step found space to crash over near the posts giving Richie McMaster an easy conversion and Instonians just a little breathing space as the referee blew his half time whistle.

HALF TIME –Dungannon 6 – Instonians 14

Dungannon would have been really pleased with their first half performance but very disappointed to concede with the last play of the half. Instonians for their part will have been disappointed with the handling errors early on in the match but pleased to be 2 scores ahead at half time knowing the strength of their bench and the fitness level in this squad. You did feel that the next score could be absolutely crucial as if Instonians got it they have a habit of running away with games but if Dungannon got it then it could be a very nervy 2nd half indeed.

15:19 Dungannon 6 – Instonians 14

Richie McMaster kicked off for Instonians and Dungannon immediately started the half with intent using strong runners off the 9 and showing good control and patience to look after the ball.

Their driving maul was working well so when they got a penalty at the breakdown they kicked for a line out just 10 metres from the Instonians line on the clubhouse side off the pitch on Dungannon’s left.

Great defence by Instonians ended up with them holding the ball up over their try line for a drop out.

15:30 Dungannon 6 – Instonians 14

Dungannon were now enjoying their best spell of the game and had a period of sustained pressure on the Instonians line. Instonians defence was excellent and the tackle count was huge. As the penalty count grew in Dungannon’s favour, however, it was a matter off time before they saw yellow and Alan Whitten was the one to go.

Despite being a man down, however, Instonians defence was heroic with no tackles missed and some crunching aggressive hits with Andrew McGrath in particular like a man possessed in his 1st game back for the 1st XV after a run out with the 2nds the week before.

Dungannon kept the ball very well and kept banging away at the Instonians line but yet again Instonians held them up over the line for another drop out.

15:34 Dungannon 13 – Instonians 14

Ian Whitten then made a great tackle on his own 22 and his young brother David made a great steal and when the ball reached Bevan Prinsloo he put in a very good searching kick towards Dungannon’s 22.

When Instonians won the scrum they had a great platform as their scrum had been dominant all day and they were in good position on the Dungannon 22 on Instonians left hand side of the pitch. David Whitten broke from the base of the scrum and found willing support runners to take play right under the posts but crucially they gave away a penalty at the breakdown and Dungannon cleared to half way and stop Instonians getting the crucial 1st score of the 2nd half.

Moments later it got even better for Dungannon as their 12 broke from his own half for a great individual try although Instonains will not be happy with their defence as a huge gap seemed to open up for him. The conversion brought it back to a 1-point game in this absorbing tussle.

15:48 Dungannon 13 – Instonians 21

The yellow card for Instonians was up and it was now back to 15 against 15 again. As is their way Instonians went straight back on the attack using forwards and backs through several phases and eventually winning a penalty at the breakdown to kick for a line out on the Dungannon 22 on Instonians left.

It was now Instonians turn to put in a great passage of controlled continuity laying siege to the Dungannon line but it was now Dungannon’s turn to hold the ball up over the line for a relieving drop out.

Instonians came again though and won a penalty right under the posts. Again they declined the 3 points to go for more and a line out 15 metres out from the line. A fantastic driving maul followed with the Dungannon pack in retreat looking up to see the referee running round under the posts to award the penalty try and give a Dungannon back row forward a yellow card. Instonians were back to 2 scores ahead and now they had the man advantage. Another score would surely rubber stamp the win and secure the bonus point at the same time.

15:57 Dungannon 13 – Instonians 26

Instonians attacked again but lost the ball forward on the halfway line giving Dungannon the scrum. Instonians attacked the scrum with a powerful drive which won them a penalty just outside the Dungannon 22 on Instonians left.

From the line out Instonians moved the ball infield and set up a ruck. Rhys O’Donnell then repeated his play from the 1st half by moving right but passing behind his back on the inside. This time it was full back Bradley McNamarra who received the pass and then showed all the mercurial talent this young man has to slalom across the 22 leaving any would be tacklers in his wake to score the crucial bonus point try in the corner.

Ruari O’Farrell had come on for Richie McMaster at 10 was just wide with the conversion leaving Instonians with a 13 point lead and just 2 minutes of ordinary time left and whatever was to be added on.


16:04 Dungannon 20 – Instonians 26

To their great credit Dungannon came straight back and threw everything at Instonians whose defence was superb. Andrew McGrath in particular not only put in huge hits in defence but was right back on his feet again to make the next one. Dungannon spurred on by the home crowd got a penalty at the breakdown and kicked for the corner 10 metres out on their left. Instonians held the driving maul but Dungannon moved it infield and with strong runners managed to get over at metres to the left of the posts. This gave them a losing bonus point which was no more than they deserved.

16:09 Dungannon 20 – Instonians 26

The large travelling Instonian support was expecting the final whistle as we were not 5 minutes over time in the 2nd half but there was time for the kick off and as Dungannon ran it back Ian Whitten was penalised for a high tackle near and Dungannon kicked for a line out on Instonians 10 metre line on Dungannon’s right.

Dungannon went through the phases off the line out and got another penalty at the breakdown to set up a line out on the Instonians 22 on the clubhouse side of the pitch on their left. The Instonian support was now very nervous, we were a full 10 minutes over time and the winning run was on the line. The relief was palpable when Instonians won the line out and Andrew Mc Grath took the contact and crucially set the ball perfectly and when Rhys O’Donnell checked with the referee that this was the last play he passed the ball directly back to Bradley McNamarra in acres of space and he belted the ball into touch to the delight of the travelling support.

FULL TIME – Dungannon 20 – Instonians 26


This was another very exciting game of AIL club rugby. Instonians winning record was right on the line deep into injury time against a very committed Dungannon team. It was the most physical test for Instonians since the Wanderers match back in the autumn. Dungannon must take heart from this performance against the unbeaten league leaders and start turning narrow defeats into victories while Instonians know they need to less loose in their play next week and take more advantage of a dominant set piece.

As for MOM a few honorable mentions go to David Whitten for his usual stellar performance and to his older brother Ian for the amount of tackles he made and to Mark Mairs for his incredible hands plucking balls out of the sky but it goes to Andrew McGrath for his incredible work rate , go forward and relentless tackling in defence and refusing to leave the cause when split but instead getting bandaged up and straight back into the fray.

With Wanderers winning again with a bonus point there is still just a 9 point gap and the match at Shaws Bridge next week is absolutely massive between the 2 best sides in the league. It was 39-38 to Instonians in the away fixture and expect a similar close contest this Saturday 17 February. The mantra remains the same, “one game at a time” and this is the biggest game of the season. See you there.