Header2014 IRFC

1st XV lose 22-25 to Belfast Harlequins in League & cup Double header



Photos later from Front Row Union

Rugby Home – The Front Row Union Sport


On Saturday 4 February 2023 Instonians welcomed Belfast Harlequins for a fixture that was doubling up as the final match in the Ulster Premier League Division 2 and the first round of the Senior Cup.

Instonians preparation for the game with several changes to the last match had been very good with an excellent session against the RBAI school on the Thursday night. We wish RBAI and their captain Jacob Boyd well in their schools cup quarter-final next week at home to Dromore and it is interesting to note that 15 of the final Instonian squad for today were ex RBAI players. Our outreach program at the club is fantastic and hugely important in the long term but the link with RBAI remains very strong and important.

It was great to welcome such familiar and friendly faces as Mike Reid and Stevie Hutton to the small relaxed pre match lunch with the President which was good craic as you would expect with these good affable rugby guys.

The conditions were dry with a moderate wind blowing towards the back car park. The early kick off time was to be 12.30 to allow people to watch the Ireland v Wales game but for some reason the actual kick off time was 12.35.

12:35 – Belfast Harlequins kicked off with the wind and immediately went through the phases keeping the ball in hand and using willing runners. Instonian defence was good however and held firm.

12.38 –Instonians 0 – 3 Belfast Harlequins

Just when Instonians seemed to have quelled the initial Belfast Harlequins surge they were penalised for a deliberate knock on just inside the Instonian half. Belfast Harlequins chose to kick at goal with the wind in their favour and a fine kick by centre Paul Kerr gave them the lead.

12.46 –Instonians 5 – 3 Belfast Harlequins

An early ankle injury to prop Matthew Nelson saw Alan Whitten come off the bench which was a sight the Belfast Harlequins front row probably did not want to see and so early in the match. It was no surprise that the visitors scrum came under pressure on their put in. A re-set and then another great Instonian scrum saw them turn the ball over. A good searching kick against the wind from scrum half Rhys O’Donnell was knocked on and another great scrum from Instonians this time on their own ball resulted in the first of many scrum penalties to Instonians throughout the match.

A kick for a line out on Instonians righthand side of the pitch on the Belfast Harlequins 10 metre line gave Instonians a good platform to use their effective line out. The ball was moved left across the pitch with excellent continuity between forwards and backs and then the ball was swiftly moved back right across the backline for Sam Fryars to score in the righthand corner.

The coaching staff will have been delighted with the score as the top class half back partnership of Rhys O’Donnell and Ruari O’Farrell had a completely new back line outside them from the last AIL game but special mention to Ruari for a sublime miss pass of his left hand on the run to Sam to score in the corner.

A new kicker today and Andrew Keane made a decent effort into the wind from the touchline but Instonians had their noses in front.

12.54 –Instonians 5 – 10 Belfast Harlequins

With wind advantage Belfast Harlequins would have been keen to establish a first half lead so knew that it was important for them to score next. They established territory deep in the Instonian half and helped by a rising penalty count from the breakdown they used their line out and driving maul to good effect. Instonians defence was good however as they kept their line in check.

The stalemate was broken however when Belfast Harlequins used a planned move from a line out near the Instonian line when instead of another attempted driving maul they transferred the ball quickly from the line out and switched it back to the blind side wing to step inside and score in the far right hand corner and put Belfast Harlequins back in front. Paul Kerr then nailed the conversion.

12.58 –Instonians 10 – 10 Belfast Harlequins

Belfast Harlequins then had a scrum in a good position in the middle of the pitch on the half way line but another great Instonian scrum resulted in another scrum penalty. Instonians kicked for a line out on the left just inside the Belfast Harlequins 22 metre line.

Instonians moved the ball right through the phases showing good continuity and control before moving it back left and this time it was Rhys O’Donnell’s turn to throw a perfect long miss pass to Frazer Laughlin who put Sam Fryars in for his 2nd try to level the scores. It was a difficult touchline conversion against the wind for Andrew Keane and so it proved but Instonians will have been happy with the 1st quarter into the wind.

13.04 –Instonians 10 – 15 Belfast Harlequins

Conversely Belfast Harlequins would not have been happy with the 1st quarter of the match with the scrums a particular cause of concern for them and no advantage from the wind assistance. The visitors continued to attack but Instonians tackling in defence was good.

Andrew McGrath , the excellent Instonian no 8 typified this with a great initial tackle in midfield but he was deemed not to have shown enough care when putting his opponent to ground and he was given a yellow card.

Belfast Harlequins will have seen this as their chance to strike as not just were the opposition down a man but one of their key players on the day. The visitors kicked for a line out 10 metres out from the Instonian line. Instonians defended very well but the penalty count at the breakdown was going the visitors well in this period of the game and eventually from a driving maul off a line out 5 metres out they got over. They missed the conversion but had retaken the lead.

13.17 –Instonians 10 – 18 Belfast Harlequins

Instonians now were back to 15 with the influential no.8 Andrew McGrath back on the pitch and they were producing some impressive defensive sets to keep the visitors in check.

Then right on half time what would prove a crucial 3 point opportunity was given to the visitors and Paul Kerr added a fine penalty from just inside the Instonian half in midfield with the last kick of the half.


HALF TIME –Instonians 10 –18 Belfast Harlequins

This cup tie was perfectly poised with Instonians now having the breeze in their favour. You felt that if they scored first then momentum would be with them. Belfast Harlequins plan would be to try to defend their lead and wait to see if an opportunity to counteract arose. They knew they had to try to avoid scrums as Instonians had their number there.

The pattern of the 2nd half was established early on with Instonians dominating territory and possession and Belfast Harlequins having to defend manfully. The game was being played in the visitors half and mainly in their 22 but good defence and the occasional knock on from this new Instonians backline somehow kept the 2nd half scoring blank.

Then following a rare foray by Belfast Harlequins into the Instonians half the large crowd saw the 1st moment of pure class in the game as Ulster A scrum half Rhys O’Donnell had his trade mark show and go from well inside his own 10 metre line and like a knife through butter took off up to the opposition 22 metre line leaving 6 defenders scrambling to catch him. Having outrun his support he showed good composure to slow up and step the would be tacklers before finding Sam Fryars in support and a great passage of play took Instonians right up to the line where Belfast Harlequins were penalised at the breakdown.

13.29 –Instonians 10 – 18 Belfast Harlequins

The 3 points on offer were turned down as had been the case with this team all season and most of last too for that matter. Instead a kick to the corner set up an attacking line out of the left and Belfast Harlequins then collapsed 3 driving mauls in a row to earn a yellow card for one of their back row.

Instonians turned down another penalty in favour of a scrum 5 metres out on the left hand side. With the dominance of their pack this was pretty much the equivalent of a spot kick in football and the expectation from the home support was that Instonians were about to close the gap to a solitary point with loads of time left and the breeze in their favour.

There followed 3 successive scrums were Instonians got a good shove on and marched Belfast Harlequins towards their own line. On each occasion a try looked the likely outcome and on each occasion Belfast Harlequins infringed and on each occasion they were penalised but no penalty try was forthcoming and no yellow card either.

Instonians therefore decided to use a different route to the try line and moved the ball right across the pitch where they nearly found a gap to cross the line and then moved back left again but knocked the ball on and the chance was lost.

A deserved score at that stage and you did sense that Instonians would go on to win this cup tie as momentum would have been in their favour.

13.51 –Instonians 10 – 25 Belfast Harlequins

They continued to dominate possession and territory and the scrums but to their credit the visitors defended manfully and as is the case in cup ties in any sport there is always the chance of a breakaway and that is exactly what happened when the visitors moved the ball left for their wing to kick ahead and then the support runner kicked on again and won the chase to score. The conversion that followed simply rubbed salt in the wounds and somehow Instonians now needed 3 scores to win the game.

13.55 –Instonians 15 – 25 Belfast Harlequins

Instonians went straight back on the attack and from 15 metres out from the visitors line it was that man Rhys O’Donnell again who surpassed his previous break to score a sensational try leaving numerous defenders trailing in his wake as he side stepped, swerved and dummied his way to the line. Ruari O’Farrell then tried a quick drop goal conversion from under the posts to save time but unfortunately in his haste missed the target.

14.01 –Instonians 22 – 25 Belfast Harlequins

Instonians came again and after a great passage of play involving forwards and backs simply hands saw the ball reach Mark Keane who had come off the bench for the last 20 minutes of the game and he showed his class to glide in and run under the posts . His cousin Andrew provided the extras and it was now a 3 point game.

The key question now was “was there enough time left “? With the game not kicking off until 12.35 there was hope that there may be a few minutes still to go.

Belfast Harlequins kicked off and Instonians immediately moved the ball right and then back left just outside their own 22 metre line where the ball was knocked on in the tackle. The shrill blast of the whistle answered the question and time was up.

FULL TIME – Instonians 22 – 25 Belfast Harlequins

This was a very exciting match for the good crowd to watch. It was a double header and gives Belfast Harlequins their 1st win in the Ulster League Premier Division and also crowns Rainey as the champions as Instonians were the only team that could have caught them. It was also a Senior Cup game and we wish Belfast Harlequins good luck in the next round.

The MOM today was one of the easiest this season as Ulster A scrum half Rhys O’Donnell showed the Instonian support the X factor that the Ballynahinch faithful watched over the last few seasons in Division 1A of the AIL. His core scrum half skills also got the Willie Oakes seal of approval as he sought him out after the game. High praise indeed.

Mentioning the AIL the next game for Instonians is in Limerick against Bruff on Saturday 18 February. 12 games played, 12 bonus point wins and just 6 games to go. One game at a time.