Header2014 IRFC

1st XV win 22-21 at Armagh 1st XV to reach Senior Cup Final


On Saturday 9 March 2024 Instonians travelled to The Palace Grounds to play City of Armagh in the Senior Cup semi-final. Armagh President Niall Chapman welcomed Instonians to the excellent pre match lunch and was pleased to see these 2 renowned Ulster rugby clubs playing each other again for the 1st time in a decade following Instonians long spell back in junior rugby.

Armagh have a great recent history in the Senior Cup reaching 4 of the last 5 finals including a hattrick of wins from 2018-2020 while Instonians last won the cup in the 1998-9 season when Brian Barrett was the captain.

Having beaten Division 1A opposition in the shape of Ballynahinch in a thriller in the last round at Ballymacarn Park, Instonians knew that they were capable of another upset against another Division 1A side. Like Hinch in the previous round, Armagh were shorn of their Ulster players and also had some injuries and unavailability, but they still managed to put out a strong side more than capable of reaching yet another final.

Instonians for their part were missing influential player coach Paul Pritchard who awaits the result of a scan this Tuesday after the gruelling narrow defeat to Sligo the week before and Bevan Prinsloo who succumbed to an injury in training during the week and failed a late fitness test. A backline reshuffle saw captain Mark Keane come into the centre and a debut for 20-year-old Stefan Hillibrand on the wing. What a proud moment for Stefan and his parents other family members watching on from the touchline.

The final player missing for Instonians was scrum half Rhys O’Donnell who was representing Ireland in the Irish Clubs international win in Portugal against Portugal A. Ruari O’Farrell continued at 9 as he had done the week before at Sligo where Rhys was rested with a slight niggle before the trip to Portugal.

14:30 Armagh 0 – Instonians 0

Instonians out half Richie McMaster kicked off with light rain falling and a slight wind which seemed to be blowing largely across the pitch.

14:36 Armagh 0 – Instonians 0

After initial attacks and good defence from both sides the 1st scrum was awarded to Armagh near the half way line in centrefield and they will have been pleased to get the scrum penalty as Instonians were found guilty of collapsing it.

Armagh kicked to touch for a lineout 10 metres inside the Instonian 22 which Instonians won and ran the ball back at Armagh but conceded a penalty at the breakdown and a great touch find put Armagh back in the very same position on the field. This time they won their lineout and used their driving maul and won another penalty causing the referee to speak to Instonian captain Mark Keane.

Armagh kicked for touch and this time the line out was only 5 metres from the line. The throw was crooked however and a solid Instonians scrum saw Ruari at 9 make a fine exit clearance and then David Witten soared into the air to catch the Armagh throw.

14:48 Armagh 0 – Instonians 0

Both defences remained on top early on and Armagh then mixed the attack up with a fine long grubber kick by their centre to give Instonians a line out on their own 22.

Then the 1st bit of real quality in the match with a fantastic break out of defence by Andrew McGrath who had shifted across to openside in Paul Pritchard’s absence. He handed off the would-be defender and broke clear into open space right up the middle of the pitch. Ian Whitten was up in support as ever and when the ball was recycled Mark Keane put in a great kick to find touch 10 metres inside the Armagh 22.

Armagh won their own line out and cleared to 10 metres outside their own 22. Instonians then put together a great passage of sustained attack with forwards and backs interlinking and strong runners off the 9 as they encamped on the Armagh line. Armagh’s defence was very good and it had to be. Eventually however the contact pressure told and Instonians were given a penalty in front of the posts with 3 easy points on offer.

As is the way with this Instonian side however, they turned down the 3 points in search of more. They kicked for a line out on their left on the clubhouse side of the pitch. A great platform for their renowned driving maul and expectation was high amongst the large travelling support. A collective sigh however, told you that they lost the line out and the scoreline remained blank.

Armagh exited and then took play into the Instonian half but when Instonians got their hands on the ball next the crowd saw the next bit a sheer quality in the match with Instonians mercurial young full back Bradley McNamara setting off on a fantastic individual break up the middle of the pitch using fast feet to weave his way past would-be Armagh tacklers before finding his captain Mark Keane up in support. When the ball was recycled it was moved swiftly to the left wing when who was standing there but the outstanding Andrew McGrath who was already in line for MOM only a quarter into the game. Armagh’s defence had been very good so far and again they managed to scramble across and get Andrew into touch right on the line. The scream from Andrew as he held his knee after the tackle was piercing and he now will be having a scan this week.

The competition and quality in the back row positions at Instonians is so very high that they had an excellent replacement in Max Preston coming on, but Andrew had been outstanding in this cup tie and we wish him well with his scan.

14:57 Armagh 0 – Instonians 5

Instonians were now in their groove and through several good passages of play they were again forcing Armagh to work very hard in defence deep in their own 22. When Armagh were given a relieving penalty at the breakdown near their own line Instonians made things worse by back chat and were marched another 10 metres back.

Armagh kicked to touch for their line out on halfway and moved the ball along the backline but a great jackal by David Whitten meant that it was now Instonians who were kicking for touch on the Armagh 10 metre line.

Then another moment a pure quality in the match with another member of the excellent Instonian backrow Gary Dillon breaking free right up the middle of the pitch again. Mark Mairs was the man in support this time and he found scrum half Ruari O’Farrell on the left wing this time and this time the Armagh defence could not catch him as he scored in the left hand corner on the clubhouse side. Richie McMaster went very close with the touchline conversion attempt but Instonians had drawn first blood in this cup tie and it was no more than they deserved at this stage in the contest.

15:00 Armagh 0 – Instonians 12

Instonians had been getting joy from creating open spaces and running free into those gaps and when they got the ball back on the Armagh 10 metre line Bradley McNamara again set off on one of his weaving runs and this time he weaved his way right through the Armagh defence to dive over near the posts giving Richie McMaster an easy conversion.

15:08 Armagh 7 – Instonians 12

With half an hour gone the next try was crucial and with Instonians clearly on top they looked the most likely side to get it. If they did then it would be a long way back for Armagh.

Ruari was having a very good game at 9 and when he put up a good box kick on his 10 metre line, Instonians were there in numbers to put pressure on. Unfortunately they were over eager and had strayed offside in the chase and so Armagh got a relieving penalty and kicked for touch to set up a lineout on the Instonian 22.

Again Instonians won the line out but lost the ball forward as they ran it back giving Armagh a scrum on the Instonians 22. Instonian got a good shove on but illegally and the scrum penalty went to Armagh. They kicked for a line out 15 metres out and when Instonians conceded another penalty from the resulting driving maul David Whitten was the man who got the yellow card.

This was Armagh’s opportunity to get right back in the game and they took a tap penalty to the pack and constantly used runners off the 9. Instonians defence was very good but Armagh remained patient and kept the ball in close under the Instonians posts. Eventually this pressure told and the 9 went over from 5 metres out under the posts with the extras added.

15:12 Armagh 14 – Instonians 12

Instonians brought on Schalk Van Der Merwe at prop for Alan Whitten at this stage and he immediately had to join his teammates in defence as Armagh went straight back on the attack trying to take advantage of the man advantage.

Armagh had also seen how dangerous Instonians were in open space and so when they won a penalty at the breakdown they found touch 10 metres from the Instonian line and rather than kick for touch and risk losing another line out, they instead took another tap penalty to the pack and again showed patience to keep hold of the ball as they took it in turns to pick and go and eventually got over again under the posts exploiting the man advantage.

15:17 Armagh 14 – Instonians 12

Armagh smelt blood now and a fantastic break out of defence by their flying left winger saw him scorch up the touchline and then step inside with a clear run to the posts. Instonians full back Bradley McNamara had other ideas though and simply did not give up. He did not seem to be closing the gap but somehow managed to scrag the speedy winger about 10 metres from the line. Instonians then got in and jackaled over the ball to get a crucial penalty.

Richie McMaster found a good touch on the Instonian 10 metre line as they brought on young hooker Oli Clarke for Neil Saulters. Instonians saw out the rest of the half knowing that they would be back to 15 for the start of the 2nd half.

HALF TIME –Armagh 14 – Instonians 12

This was a fascinating cup tie with Instonians full value for their 2 score lead after half an hour and threatening to put the tie to bed as they were finding a lot of open space in the Armagh defence. Armagh defended well and then took full advantage when David Whitten was off with his yellow card to put themselves in the lead and only a superb piece of defending by Bradley McNamara stopped them increasing the lead.

With David Whitten returning for the 2nd half it was back to 15 v 15 and impossible to say which side would be going through to the Senior Cup Final on Saturday 4 May at Ravenhill.

15:23 Armagh 14 – Instonians 12

Armagh kicked off deep looking to gain some territory or “play it down there” in old money.

15:28 Armagh 14 – Instonians 12

Instonians kept the ball in hand and took play up to halfway but a penalty at the breakdown to Armagh saw then kick for touch for a line out 10 metres inside the Instonian 22. They used their driving maul and when it slowed they again kept it in the pack and hammered away at the Instonian line. Instonians defended manfully and eventually got a drop out by holding Armagh up over the line.

Before that could be taken however, was the sight of captain Mark Keane with his jersey being used as a sling to support his shoulder as Instonians lost another man to injury. Again we wish Mark well with his injury assessment.

15:30 Armagh 21 – Instonians 12

Instonians dropped out long and as Armagh ran it back Shalk Van Der Merwe was given a yellow card for a high tackle and again Instonians were a man down.

Armagh found a great touch just 10 metres from the line and following their initial driving maul they again resorted to pick and goes in the pack. As before they remained very patient and took care of the ball and eventually they got over again under the posts.

Instonians were now 2 scores down and a man down again and Ravenhill looked a long way off.

15:40 Armagh 21 – Instonians 12

Both defences were very good for the next 10 minutes and the breakdown was fiercely contested with both sides getting important turnovers. Crucially for Instonians however was that they did not concede any more points when their 2nd yellow card was up and it was back to 15 v 15 going into the 4th quarter of the game.

15:47 Armagh 21 – Instonians 12

Armagh remained clearly on top at this stage and when they won a penalty at the breakdown just outside the Instonian 22, they found a great touch just 5 metres from the line. This was the cup tie right there as to go 3 scores clear would leave no time for Instonians to come back. To their enormous credit, Instonians next defensive set was superb as they held out manfully and got the turnover. Armagh then followed Instonians lead with their own back chat and Instonians got another 10 metres allowing Richie McMaster to find touch on his 10 metre line.

15:56 Armagh 21 – Instonians 19

Whereas the breakdown remained fiercely contested, the set piece was now belonging to Instonians with the scrum in particular.

Instonians won a scrum penalty on their own 10 metre line and Richie McMaster found touch 10 metres outside the Armagh 22. A fantastic driving maul marched Armagh back over 20 metres but they managed to get the scrum and a chance to get back up field. Instonians had other ideas though and attacked the Armagh scrum and got another scrum penalty.

This time from the resulting line out there was simply no stopping the powerful Instonians driving maul going over in the left hand corner and just like at Wanderers before Xmas when Instonians had been 9 points down late on it was Richie McMaster who nailed a superb touchline conversion setting up a grandstand finish with a penalty or drop goal to win it.

Liam Kaprigiannis was on at prop for Alan Whitten at this stage.

16:05 Armagh 21 – Instonians 22

The next score would surely win it for either side, if there was one of course. The tension in the large crowd was palpable as both teams went for it with no quarter asked or given.

As time was running out Instonians had a scrum on the Armagh 10 metre line and what a scrum it was as it destroyed the Armagh scrum and Instonians had a penalty near the far-left hand touchline just inside the Armagh 10 metre line. As Instonians were preparing to kick for a line out and a chance to use their driving maul, up stepped Instonian out half Richie McMaster and said that he thought he could get this. David Whitten was now Instonians captain on the pitch and he trusted Richie from their time together playing for Queens so he signaled for the posts. Richie absolutely nailed the conversion as it went high and handsome through the posts and the players rushed in to congratulate him as the travelling support were in raptures.

Everyone had to immediately calm down as there was time for a last play. Armagh kicked it short but it was Instonians who gathered the ball and it was given back to Matthew Keane on the left touchline who kicked it out and the celebrations could now begin.

FULL TIME – Armagh 21 – Instonians 22

What a game of rugby, what a cup tie for the large crowd at the Palace Grounds to witness.

You have to feel for Armagh as they had the game won. Their team did this fine club proud however, and despite the players they had missing today put in a huge shift. Their focus must shift now to their huge AIL Division 1A game at home to Shannon on 23 March. Win that game and they should cement their status in the top league for another season and we wish them the best of luck with that. It is very important for Ulster that they remain in the topflight with Ballynahinch next season.

As for Instonians they showed great character to stay in the game when losing 2 players to yellow cards and after losing their run of successive wins in the league last week in Sligo by a point this week they win by 1 point. Like Armagh, Instonians will now turn their attention to the league and the next match is Rainey at home on Saturday 23 March. They just need 7 points from their remaining 3 matches to win the league and promotion for the 3rd season in a row. After today’s heroics however, the season will not end on Saturday 6 April at home to Sligo as they will have a game away in the distance at Ravenhill on Saturday 4 May in the Senior Cup Final.

MOM today had a lot of contenders with Ruari O’Farrell at 9 having a very good game, Andrew McGrath at 7 superb before he had to go off and an exceptional 80 minutes from no 8 Gary Dillon and the same for David Whitten but 70 minutes due to his yellow card. The joint winners this week however, are Bradley McNamara at 15 for his try and incredible chase to stop a certain try and of course Richie McMaster for stepping up to land a superb clutch kick to see Instonians to Ravenhill. The Rickety in the away changing rooms was as loud as the one at Hinch in the last round and Division 1B side Queens University now await for us in the final but that is ages away and we hope to see a big crowd at Shaws Bridge on Saturday 23 March as we look to chip away at the 7 points needed for promotion.