Header2014 IRFC

1st XV beat Ballynahinch 1st XV 22-21 in dramatic senior Cup Qtr Final


On Saturday 23 December 2023 Instonians travelled to Ballynacarn Park to play Ballynahinch in the quarter final of the Senior Cup. Ballynahinch President Graham Furey gave a very warm welcome to the travelling Instonian party before everyone was treated to an excellent pre match lunch.

This match was a free hit for Instonians against the best side in Ulster. Ballynahinch are currently sitting in 5th place in Div 1A, just 1 place outside the top 4, while Instonians are currently top of 2B.

A bumper crowd eagerly anticipated the 1st match between these sides in many years with the question being would they be hearing “Let’s all gather at the river” from the Hinch changing room come 4 p.m. as expected or might there just be a cup upset and “Rickety” being sung from the away dressing room.

14:30 Hinch 0 – Instonians 0

Hinch kicked off with the wind and playing down towards the clubhouse. It looked a 15-point wind but time would tell.

14:32 Hinch 0 – Instonians 5

A good kick off from Hinch saw Instonians lose the ball into touch to give Hinch the line out on Instonians 10 metre line and a good platform to attack. Instonians won the line out however and then 2 Instonian players who had spent spells playing for Hinch combined to give the visitors the perfect start into the wind. Rhys O’Donnell kicked the ball over the onrushing Hinch defence and the supporting Ian Whitten anticipated the bouncing ball perfectly and the 36-year-old sprinted like a youngster from just inside the Hinch half to score in the corner. Ruari O’Farrell missed the difficult conversion into the wind but what a start for the underdogs. How important would points into the wind prove later on ?

14:32 Hinch 7 – Instonians 5

When Instonians attempted to run the ball back from deep they lost the ball forward and gave Hinch an attacking scrum. Hinch moved the ball quickly from the scrum and slick hands saw the right wing go over in the corner. A magnificent touchline conversion gave Hinch the lead.

14:42 Hinch 7 – Instonians 10

Instonians came straight back and went through the phases and when they got a scrum just outside the Hinch 22 they laid down an early marker with a dominant scrum and Matthew Keane kicked for a line out 15 metres out from the line on the left. They moved the ball right off the line out and pounded at the Hinch line. The home defence held up well and eventually Instonians kicked away possession allowing Hinch to clear to touch on their 22.

Instonians this time went to their driving maul off the lineout and marched Hinch backwards. They then showed good patience and control to keep the ball through numerous phases of play deep in the Hinch 22. When they got close to the line Rhys O’Donnell saw a gap and reached out but was just short of the line under the posts. The ball was retained however and 2nd row Eoghan Murphy got over from short range. Ruari O’Farrell seemed to hurry the conversion under the posts and put the kick wide but the visitors had now scored twice into the wind.

Instonians were already dominant at scrum time but an early engage gave Hinch the chance to use the wind and in fairness to Hinch they used the wind very well first half with booming kicks to give them territory.

Instonian defence was resolute however and a great jackal by young Oli Clarke gave the visitors a relieving penalty after a period of Hinch pressure. From the line out Instonians moved the ball wide and looked threatening but a penalty for obstruction in midfield allowed Hinch to again kick for touch 5 metres from the line. Great defence by Instonians again thwarted the Hinch attack as they moved it off the line out. In their eagerness to make the tackle 2 Instonian players collided as young blindside Stuart Cameron ended up breaking Ian Whitten’s nose in the collision. Ian went off to be replaced by Daniel Keane.

Instonians were still dominating the scrum and turned down a penalty to scrum again in their own 22. They won another scrum penalty but this time kicked for the line out for territory. Thery lost the line out however and from Hinch’s next attack Schalk Van Derr Merwe saw yellow for a high tackle. Shrewd thinking by Hinch called for a scrum which may have surprised some in the crowd as they were 2nd best in the scrums but Instonians had to bring on another prop (and a fine one at that in Anton Lupari) and take a player off being 2nd row Marty Voster. What a scrum Instonians produced with 7 men however putting huge pressure on the Hinch 8.

Hinch would have been conscious of the fact that they really needed to get points on the board as they would be facing the wind in the 2nd half. When they tried to move the ball wide however their attempted long passes caught the wind and went way forward.

15:01 Hinch 14 – Instonians 10

Instonians again put the Hinch pack under huge pressure at the scrum but were penalised for not pushing straight and Hinch put in another long racking kick to give them a line out 10 metres out on their right. Instonians held the attempted driving maul from Hinch who then moved the ball across the backline and just when Hinch centre looked as if he had lost the ball he expertly regathered it and gave a fine pass to his centre partner to go over under the posts with the extras added.

Hinch were now ahead but knew they had a big 10 minutes left in the half with their man advantage as a 4 point lead into this wind was going to make it very difficult for them to defend.

15:07 Hinch 21 – Instonians 10

Hinch are not a Division 1A side for no reason however as they put together a good period of continuity between forwards and backs eventually moving the ball wide on the right to use the outside man to squeeze over right in the corner. He got up to nail an excellent touchline conversion.

At this stage Schalk Van Der Werwe was back on after his 10 minutes in the bin but even better news was Ian Whitten was back on after resetting his broken nose. The Whittens are made of stern stuff.

Instonians ran back out of defence and captain Mark Keane (playing fullback today in the absence of Bradley McNamara) made a great break only to be stopped by a high tackle which caused a free for all amongst the players. After matters calmed down the referee spoke to both captains who in turn spoke to their players. The original penalty stood to Instonians but no yellow card to the Hinch player.

David Whitten had to go off with what appeared to be a stinger and the Instonians support hoped that they would see him return in the 2nd half.

With time running out at the end of the half Hinch again used the wind to kick for territory and when they got hold off the ball had one last chance to add to their lead and possibly take the game out of Instonians reach. They went to their driving maul but Instonians held firm so Hinch then moved it through the backline but crossing in midfield meant their opportunity to add to the lead had gone.

HALF TIME –Hinch 21 – Instonians 10

This cup tie was very much in the balance now with Hinch holding an 11 point lead with Instonians playing towards the clubhouse with the wind. The huge crowd watching this contest were eagerly anticipating the 2nd half with the large Instonian travelling support in amongst the usual packed home support knowing that a potential upset was still alive. Particularly with David Whitten coming back on to the filed for the 2nd half.

15:24 Hinch 21 – Instonians 15

You felt that the 1st score of the 2nd half would be crucial and it was Instonians who came flying out of the blocks from the kick off and after a great period of controlled phases they took play right up to the Hinch line and showed great patience to continually recycle before Schalk Van Der Merwe crashed over near to the posts. Matthew Keane had taken over the kicking duties but hit the post with the conversion. This was the 2nd conversion missed that Instonians would have expected to get. Would this come back to haunt them? 3 tries each at this stage but Hinch had hit all their conversions.

When the ball did not go 10 from the Hinch KO , Instonians had no hesitation in choosing the scrum option and they marched the Hinch pack backwards before releasing to give front foot ball and a great grubber kick from Ian Whitten for a Hinch line out 10 metres from their own line on Hinch’s right.

In trying to exit into the wind Hinch were caught behind their own line and Instonians had Hinch were they wanted them with a scrum 5 metres out and the chance for a push over try. Hinch immediately conceded a penalty at the scrum and Instonians chose to scrum again. Another scrum penalty to Instonians followed and you felt if a 3rd one came then a penalty try or a yellow card or both would come. The 3rd scrum penalty did come but to the surprise of the travelling Instonian support it went to Hinch. It appeared to be for turning in as the Hinch scrum was going backwards towards their line.

At this stage in the match young Josh Eagleson came on at 15 with captain Mark Keane going to the wing and speedster Simon McMaster going off. Josh is a fine player straight out of the RBAI schools cup winning side of last year. He usually plays 10 but is a very accomplished kicker. Shrewd from the Instonian coaching staff.

15:43 Hinch 21 – Instonians 22

Hinch to their credit were trying manfully to ran the ball back at Instonians from deep but could not get out of their half as the Instonian defence was solid with every man making his tackles and good communication amongst the players.

Another great Instonian scrum resulted in a kick for a line out 10 metres out on Instonians left playing towards the clubhouse. A great driving maul saw Schalk Van Der Merwe on the end of it to score 15 metres to the left off the posts. Up stepped teenager Josh Eagleson as cool as a cucumber to sail the ball between the posts and Instonians were ahead.

15:47 Hinch 21 – Instonians 22

Hinch had it all to do now but they are savvy enough to know that they needed to stay in the contest and hope for an opportunity before the end. They withstood Instonian pressure and then got themselves up the pitch and when their captain shot up to charge down a clearance kick on the Instonian 22 they had a scrum on the Instonian 22 in front of the posts. They moved it left to try to get the all important try and a high tackle by young blindside Stuart Cameron saw him brandished a red card with no mitigation the call.

Instonians had now 15 minutes to play with 14 men and they were in the wrong area of the pitch for one of the very few times in the 2nd half. Hinch turned down the kick at goal to take the lead and instead went for the line out 10 metres out on their left.

Hinch moved the ball right off the line out with willing runners off the 9 pounding at the Instonian line. Score now and the favourites had a great chance of reaching the cup semifinal and potentially going on to defend their trophy. Instonians defended manfully with a player down and eventually turned the ball over for young Josh Eagleson to sensibly use the wind and get the ball down the pitch.

15:55 Hinch 21 – Instonians 22

Hinch ran the ball back again and when Instonians were given offside Hinch kicked for a line out on the Instonian 22 on Hinch’s left. Instonians again defended very well but were penalised for going off their feet and Hinch kicked for the line out 5 metres out this time. This was the match right here you felt. Could Hinch get over the line ? The answer was a resounding NO as Instonians did not give an inch and held up the maul to get the scrum 5 metres from their own line. David Whitten picked up at the back of the scrum and made some ground before setting up the angle for his scrum half Rhys O’Donnell to put in a great clearance kick to the Instonian 10 metre line.

Hinch came back again but again Instonians defended well and got the penalty at the breakdown. This time Matthew Keane kicked for touch just inside the Hinch half with time running out. Instonians line out had been very good all day but sods law they lost this one and Hinch had one last chance. They moved the ball across their backline to the right but a hurried pass saw the ball go into touch and the word was “there are 90 seconds left”. It was Instonians line out again on the halfway line and replacement hooker Neil Saulters found Marty Voster who was impeded as he jumped. Ian Whitten came running across from the midfield to use all the experience of his professional career where he won the European Cup and 2 English Premiership titles with Exeter to suggest to captain Mark Keane that Instonians take the shot at goal thereby running down the clock and with the wind behind him this was certainly within range for young Josh Eagleson. The kick was very well struck but went just to the left of the posts and as it was travelling over the dead ball line a Hinch player jumped up to try to keep the ball in play but ended up throwing it forward behind his own line. The referee signaled for a scrum to Instonians but there was now no time to take it as the Instonian celebrations started immediately on the pitch and on the sidelines.

FULL TIME – Hinch 21 – Instonians 22

What a great cup tie and a superb advert for the local game. Hinch showed their experience and savvy to come very close to snatching the win playing into the wind in the 2nd half but this Instonian side showed their mettle today. What character to play with a man down for the last 15 minutes and defend their line heroically when they had to. This was an upset but it was no fluke as Instonians fully merited their win and it was “Rickety” bellowing out from the away dressing room. Instonians saw this tie as a free hit and to see where they are. The answer is crystal clear, they are firmly on track. It gets no easier as the semi-final is away to another Division 1A side in Armagh, a very good side but again Instonians have nothing to lose.

MOM is so difficult today as it could go to all 20 Instonian players so we will go forwards and backs. The forwards MOM is shared between Alan Whitten and Schalk Van Der Merwe and the backs is clearly Ian Whitten for his great opening try into the wind, his own excellent handling and tackling but also the influence he brings to this team with his vast experience.

Merry Xmas to all Instonians out there, a great 1st half of the season and then we start again on 13 January 2024 at Deramore against Belfast Harlequins. See you all there.