Header2014 IRFC

1st XV win 39-38 at Wanderers!!


On Saturday 11 November 2023 Instonians travelled to Merrion Road to play Wanderers in a highly anticipated top of the table clash between 2 sides who love to play open running rugby and with only 4 points separating them at the top of the table. All 4 of the Whitten brothers were in the starting line-up for Instonians and having survived his stag weekend in Galway, Richie McMaster returned to the squad.

Wanderers President Paul Whelan warmly welcomed Instonians officials and travelling supporters to a superb pre match lunch noting the keen rivalry in the 90’s and 2000’s between the clubs in the AIL with one of the highlights being that we played the last club match on the main stadium at Lansdowne Road before it closed.

The weather was set fair with dry overheads and no wind to speak of and a nice wide pitch in good condition for the type of open rugby these sides want to play and just as importantly the supporters want to watch.

An aside for Instonians was with a high scoring close game anticipated would this be the day when they actually took a penalty kick at goal ? The last one was taken over 2 years ago on 23 October 2021 in a 27-26 win over Clogher Valley at the start of the successful promotion year back to the AIL from junior rugby. The penalty taker that day Richard McCarthy was now on the coaching team.

14:32 Wanderers 0 – Instonians 0

In perfect conditions Instonians kicked off playing away from the clubhouse and immediately managed to get hold of the ball with Bevan Prinsloo making good ground up the left touchline and Wanderers were penalised at the next breakdown. Instonians licked for a line out 15 metres out and the driving maul that followed was held up 5 metres out and Instonians had to “use it”.

Instonians then had a long spell of controlled possession back and forth across the pitch but the Wanderers defence was excellent and eventually the ball was lost forward in the tackle and we had the 1st scrum of the game. Wanderers were immediately under pressure on their put- in but cleared the ball well into touch.

14:43 Wanderers 0 – Instonians 5

The early stages of the game followed the same pattern with Instonians attacking with ball in hand and showing good continuity between forwards and backs and Wanderers defending manfully. Eventually however the deadlock was broken following a great kick into space from fullback Mark Keane, right wing Zak Davidson gathered the ball on the far-right touchline and when it was quickly recycled, a swift transfer through several hands found prop Schalk Van Der Merwe who crashed over in the left-hand corner. Matthew Keane went very close with the difficult conversion.

14:46 Wanderers 7 – Instonians 5

Wanderers’ response was immediate and clinical. It was a case of “anything you can do” as they got hold of possession and went through excellent phases with impressive no 8 Popai Finau heavily involved and eventually they found space to go over in the far-right corner and a superb touchline conversion gave Wanderers the lead.

14:51 Wanderers 7 – Instonians 12

This match was already living up to its billing and it was Instonians turn to go on the attack. Again the quality of their ball handling and the interaction between forwards and backs was very impressive and after a period of sustained pressure Wanderers conceded a penalty at the breakdown in front of the posts. The easy 3 points were declined and a kick for a line out 5 metres out saw the driving maul take young hooker Oli Clarke over the line for the try. This time Matthew Keane added the extras with a superb conversion from the touchline on the wrong side of the pitch for a left foot kicker.

14:53 Wanderers 7 – Instonians 17

Wanderers immediately got hold of possession following the restart and started to go through their own phases but the Instonian defence kept them on the halfway line and when they went to move the ball wide left from a ruck, a tremendous read from captain Robert Whitten saw him intercept the pass on the burst and scorch up the touchline from halfway to dive over in the corner for a sensational score. Matthew Keane was wide with the conversion but Instonians were 2 scores ahead now.

15:03 Wanderers 14– Instonians 17

This young Wanderers showed their mettle now and came back at Instonians even harder and following a period of intense pressure they won a penalty at the breakdown in the Instonian 22 but turned down the kick at goal and kicked for a line out 5 metres out on the left. The driving maul was initially stopped by Instonians but from the next play captain Robert Whitten got a yellow card for killing the ball.

Wanderers sensed blood and turned down the easy 3 points for a tap penalty. This was halted by Instonians but only at the expense of another penalty. Wanderers took another tap but Instonians tackling in defence was fierce. Just when it looked like they would hold out, no 8 Popai Finau used his considerable power and strength to crash over under the posts with the extras added.

Instonians may have been down to 14 men, but it did not change their mindset one iota and they went straight back on the attack and from a scrum it was the turn of the Instonian no 8 Gary Dillon to show what he could. He picked up from the base of the scrum outside his own 22 and exploded up the blindside eating up the ground. When the ball was recycled out half Ruari O’Farrell found space in behind with a clever grubber kick finding touch 10 metres out. Wanderers won their line out and cleared.

15:15 Wanderers 14– Instonians 24

Liam Kaprigiannis came on at prop for Alan Whitten at this stage and Instonians continued to attack with ball in hand. The pressure on Wanderers resulted in a penalty to Instonians for a high tackle which was kicked to touch for a line out 15 metres out on the left. The driving maul that followed was brought down by Wanderers resulting in a yellow card for the home side and with Robert Whitten coming back on it was now Instonians with the 1 man advantage.

The fact that it was a prop that was yellow card no doubt changed Instonians mind as they opted for a scrum and Wanderers had to take a player off to bring on a prop. Instonians won a scrum penalty but this time chose to kick for the corner and the driving maul gave Hooker Oli Clarke his 2nd try of the day and more importantly a bonus point 4th try for his team before half time. A great touchline conversion by Matthew Keane again took Instonians out to a 2-score lead right on half time.


HALF TIME –Wanderers 14 – Instonians 24

For Instonians they will have been pleased with the 1st half as they had already scored 4 tries and banked a bonus point. The key for them was to ensure that they went on to secure the win against a very dangerous Wanderers side.

For Wanderers they will not have been too despondent as this match was very much alive and they had crossed the whitewash twice themselves.

It had been a great 1st half for the spectators and you just knew that there were more tries to come for both sides but you felt that the next score was crucial.

15:26 Wanderers 17– Instonians 24

Wanderers kicked off long at the start of the 2nd half and Instonians attempted to run the ball from deep but were penalised at the breakdown in front of their posts on the 22. Wanderers with a man down sensibly chose to take their allotted time for a kick at goal and reduced the deficit immediately to a converted score.

15:31 Wanderers 17– Instonians 29

In this topsy turvy game Instonians came back strongly and when David Whitten stole a Wanderers line out there followed several good passages with the ball being kept alive and then Ruari O’Farrell found a very good touch 10 metres from the Wanderers line in front of the clubhouse.

Instonians won the line out and moved the ball smartly right using strong runners off the 9 but it was lost forward in the tackle and Wanderers quickly cleared to touch on their 22 from the scrum. If they thought the danger had passed however, Ian Whitten had other ideas and from a good take from Marty Voster in the line out, a planned move worked a treat and Ian powered over from the 22 metre line. Matthew Keane put the touchline conversion just wide of the post.

15:34 Wanderers 24– Instonians 29

Wanderers did not panic and showed great character to take the fight right back to the visitors from Belfast. Initially Instonians defended very well but eventually the pressure told and Wanderers got over on the left and added the conversion from 10 metres in from the touchline.

Back to a 5 point game and the result was up for grabs. Simply great viewing for everyone lucky enough to be at Merrion Road to witness it.

Instonians now brought on 18 year old Jack Parkinson in his 1st season as hooker (having been no 7 in the RBAI schools cup winning team last year and centre up to Medallion) and Eoghan Murphy to bring his experience to proceedings.

15:42 Wanderers 24– Instonians 29

Instonians came straight back on the attack and after a sustained period of pressure found themselves in familiar territory with a driving maul just outside the Wanderers 22 by the clubhouse . Wanderers collapsed and had a player sent to the bin with a yellow card. Matthew Keane kicked the penalty to touch 15 metres out.

This felt like a crucial phase in the game as Instonians driving maul moved slowly and steadily towards the line but somehow Wanderers managed to get in and hold it up and despite being under pressure at their scrum they managed to clear their lines.

15:42 Wanderers 31– Instonians 29

Intense pressure from Instonians again however ,almost resulted in a try in the left-hand corner but the final pass did not go to hand and Wanderers had another scrum deep in their own 22. Again Instonians had the Wanderers scrum creaking 10 metres from their own line but somehow no 8 Popoai Finau managed to pick from a retreating scrum and charge up the pitch to almost halfway where he won a penalty. Wanderers kicked to touch for a line out and worked a move of the top for their centre to break free up the pitch and score under the posts with the extras added.

What an incredible passage of play. Instonians had looked certain to score and put distance between the sides and instead they were now behind for the 1st time in the match.

By this stage Max Preston had come on at 7 and Richie McMaster came on at 15 with Mark Keane moving to the wing and Zak Davidson going off.

15:53 Wanderers 38– Instonians 29

Wanderers were now buoyed on by the home support and intent on completing what would be a great home win. They got a smart 50-22 but lost the ball forward from the line out and Instonian’s dominant scrum won a relieving penalty which Richie McMaster cleared to the Instonian 10 metre line on their right-hand side of the pitch.

Instonians moved the ball left off the top of the line out but knocked the ball on. Wanderers knew their scrum was under pressure but smart thinking saw them move the ball quickly from the base and a great planned move in the backline worked a treat as the left wing went over in the corner. Merrion Road erupted but then fell silent as a crucial touchline conversion would take them more than a score clear. The ball sailed between the uprights and with less than 10 minutes to go Instonians faced their biggest challenge in over 2 years.

From the kickoff it got worse for Instonians as Matthew Keane in trying to catch the ball was yellow carded for contact in the air on the Wanderers defender.

16:01 Wanderers 38– Instonians 36

It is at times like this that the real character of the team is put to the test with the unbeaten run on the line. It is when you need your leaders in the side to step up and one such player no 8 Gary Dillon took the situation into his own hands with a fantastic break from near the half way line which looked like he might follow the lead of his skipper by scoring himself but when he was tackled just 5 metres from the try line Wanderers were penalised at the breakdown. It was a 2nd yellow and therefore a red and so the teams were evened up at 14 players a piece for the remaining 5 minutes.

Rhys O’Donnell kicked to touch for a line out 5 metres out on the left hand side of the pitch near the clubhouse. The driving maul was moving slowly towards the line but just as Wanderers looked to move the maul sideways Ian Whitten showed all his experience from his European cup and Premiership wins with Exeter to join the maul with power and precision and steer it over the line at pace and teenage hooker Jack Parkinson touched down for the try. Richie McMaster wasted no time knocking over a superb touchline conversion and we had a 2-point game.

16:05 Wanderers 38– Instonians 39

Instonians tails were up now but they had less than 5 minutes left. The players remained calmer than the crowd surrounding the pitch and produced a simply fantastic period of controlled play as they encamped themselves in the Wanderers 22. Wanderers were defending their lead manfully but the pressure was so intense that they were forced to concede a penalty right under their posts. Richie McMaster took hold of the ball and Instonians took their first penalty in over 2 years and they were ahead with 2 minutes left.

Wanderers had one last chance but from the kickoff they were penalised for a high tackle. Richie McMaster found a safe touch on the half way line and it came down to this. Could Instonians secure their own line out ? If so that would be that. Teenage hooker Jack Parkinson remained cool as a cucumber and found his man. That man was impressive skipper Robert Whitten and when the clock was run down the ball was put out of play to signal the end of one of the best games of club rugby for quite some time.

FULL TIME – Wanderers 38 – Instonians 39

This was heartbreaking for a hugely impressive young Wanderers side who simply did not deserve to lose this game. When the dust settles however, they will be very proud of their performance and they seem certain to be up near the top of the league at the business end of this season if they continue to play like this.

For Instonians this was a wake-up call if it were needed that they need to tighten up defensively to add to their hugely impressive attacking game. Also, now that they have taken a penalty it may not be that long until they take another.

MOM was between Ian Whitten and Gary Dillon and it goes to Gary by a whisker.

Next up for Instonians is old rivals Dungannon next Saturday 18 November 2023 and the unbeaten run survives another week …just !

Instonians lost Past President George Rodgers during the week to a long illness. George was the manager when the club joined the inaugural All Ireland League in 1990 and was excellent in the role. He would be smiling down on that win today, that one was for Wee George !