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1st XV win 32-26 in an exciting game at Belfast Harlequins


On Saturday 13 January 2024 Instonians travelled to Deramore Park to play Belfast Harlequins for the 1st game after the long Xmas break. Belfast Harlequins President Marty Malseed gave a very warm welcome to the travelling Instonian party to a packed and excellent pre match lunch.

Galway Corinthians had won again the previous evening to move within 2 points of Instonians at the top of the table (having played a game more) and with Wanderers just behind them; Instonians could not afford a slip up. Belfast Harlequins needed the points too to try to move away from the other end of the table and will have been encouraged by their 1st half showing in the previous fixture before Instonians ran away with it in the 2nd half. With both teams liking to run the ball and with dry overhead conditions and very little wind the large crowd looked forward to another enjoyable game of AIL rugby.

14:30 Belfast Harlequins 0 – Instonians 0

Quins had the kickoff playing towards their club house and it almost felt like the start of a new season as in golfing parlance the front 9 was over and the back 9 was starting. This was the only game that mattered right now and who would start it well?

14:34 Belfast Harlequins 7 – Instonians 0

We would not have long to wait for the answer as Quins kicked deep and with a good chase Instonians were forced to clear to their own 22 on their left. Quins won a good line out and then immediately put together a very good phase of controlled possession moving the ball infield from their right.

Instonians had worked hard on their defence before Xmas and had been very aggressive in their first up tackles but that was not evident here as Quins found a gap in the Instonians defence to score close to the posts giving a straightforward conversion. What a start for the home side.

14:39 Belfast Harlequins 7 – Instonians 5

Instonians response was immediate as they ran the ball back and went through the phases putting pressure on Quins defence and when they won a penalty at the breakdown just outside the Quins 22, they turned down the kick at goal in favour of a line out 15 metres out from the Quins line on Instonians right. The driving maul progressed to close to the line and when it slowed, out half Ruari O’Farrell put a cross field kick up for left wing Matthew Keane to contest. From the loose ball Instonians then got 2 quick successive penalties at the breakdown and from a line out drove over the line with hooker Oli Clarke touching down 15 metres in from the touchline on Instonians left. Matthew Keane hit the post with his conversion attempt but Instonians were up and running.

14:44 Belfast Harlequins 7 – Instonians 10

Instonians went straight back on the attack again and after a good passage of controlled continuity between forwards and backs scrum half Rhys O’Donnell put in a clever kick which bounced in the Quins 22 and when the Quins left wing gathered the bouncing ball he was greeted by Instonian captain David Whitten who wrapped him up.

From the next passage of play, instead of kicking to touch and facing the inevitable Instonians driving maul, Quins kicked the ball high for their right wing to contest in the air. Matthew Keane on Instonians left wing read the play well and timed his jump to take a good clean catch and find supporting 2nd row Marty Voster who gave a good pass to full back Bradley McNamara and he showed great feet to sprint over in the far left for Instonians 2nd try. Matthew Keane missed the conversion from the touchline.

14:56 Belfast Harlequins 7 – Instonians 17

Quins came straight back at Instonians with their backs in particular looking dangerous but after a good passage of play with forwards and backs linking well taking play up to the Instonian 22, Paul Pritchard showed all his experience by jackaling in on the ball just at the right time to give Instonians a relieving penalty.

It was clear at this stage in the game that Instonians were dominant at scrum time and their powerful driving maul off line outs were making 20 and 30 metres so Quins had to try to stay in the game by using their dangerous backs in counter attacks.

Following another great driving maul of 30 metres by Instonians the referee had to speak to the Quins captain about constant infringements from the home side as the visitors got another penalty.

Matthew Keane kicked for touch on the Quins 22 on Instonians right and this time Instonians moved the ball off the top but the ball was lost forward in midfield. Quins were under pressure in the scrum and the Quins scrum half knocked on at the base when trying to get the ball away. From the resultant scrum what is becoming a good combination off the base saw no 8 Gary Dillon find scrum half Rhys O’Donnell who in turn found his captain blindside wing forward David Whitten who set up the ruck and the ball was moved back left for his older brother Alan Whitten to crash over near the posts with Instonians this time being able to add the extras through Matthew Keane.

15:08 Belfast Harlequins 7 – Instonians 22

Quins to their credit came back again and took play up to the Instonians 22 but a crunching tackle from prop Schalk Van Der Merwe sent the Quins attacker backwards and again Paul Pritchard was there to get the jackal.

Mathew Keane missed touch going for distance but soon Instonians had another penalty at the breakdown and this time Matthew found a good touch 10 metres from the Quins line. Quins did very well to hold up the driving maul this time and from the resultant scrum cleared for a line out on the Quins 22 on Instonians right.

This time Instonians chose to move the ball and slick hands across the backline saw left wing Matthew Keane score on the far left hand corner and Instonians had their bonus point with their 4th try. Matthew missed the touchline conversion attempt.

15:13 Belfast Harlequins 7 – Instonians 27

Schalk Van Der Merwe then saw yellow for a high tackle and when Quins kicked the ball dead and a scrum back on halfway, Instonians had to bring on another prop in Liam Kaprigiannis and sacrifice 2nd row Eoghan Murphy. The 7 man Instonian scrum immediately won a scrum penalty and Matthew Keane found touch 10 metres from the Quins line and moments later Oli Clarke was again the beneficiary of the impressive driving maul which powered over the Quins line.

There was just about time for the kickoff before the referee blew the half-time whistle.


HALF TIME –Belfast Harlequins 7 – Instonians 27

Just 4 weeks ago in the corresponding fixture Instonians were leading 28-22 and went on to win 63-22 and with scrum dominance and their powerful driving maul well established in this game then the large Instonian travelling support would have been expected a similar outcome.

Quins on the other hand knew that they simply had to score first and try to get enough possession to use their dangerous backs to try to get back in the contest. They also knew that there was still some time left on Instonians yellow card to use their man advantage.

15:23 Belfast Harlequins 7 – Instonians 27

Instonians kicked off playing towards the clubhouse and Quins immediately responded by kicking the ball deep. Instonians talented full back Bradley McNamara counter attacked and found support from Bevan Prinsloo who made good ground and from the next ruck Matthew Keane dropped into 9 to put in a clever kick into the Quins 22.

Quins cleared to their 22 but were soon back on the defence as Instonians looked to get that crucial 1st score of the 2nd half. Quins defended well but when they attempted to run the ball back another jackal by Paul Pritchard gave Matthew Keane to kick for a line out 10 metres out from the Quins line on Instonians right. You felt that if Instonians caught the lineout, the odds were that Oli Clarke would complete his hattrick and it would be a long afternoon for Quins. The clean catch was made but the referee blew for obstruction and Quins cleared for a line out.

15:28 Belfast Harlequins 14 – Instonians 27

Schalk Van Der Merwe’s yellow card was over but Liam Kaprigiannis remained on the field with Eoghan Murphy returning to the 2nd row.

From the next phase of play Quins won a penalty at the breakdown and found a good touch 15 metres from the Instonians line on Quins left. They moved the ball inside and the centre ran a good line back against the grain to get over on the left. Quins had got that crucial 1st score of the 2nd half and added a good conversion for good measure.

At this stage Richie McMaster came on replacing Ruari O’Farrell at out half.

15:37 Belfast Harlequins 14 – Instonians 27

That score had given Quins belief and a good kick downfield resulted in an Instonian scrum 5 metres from their own line. A very good exit however saw impressive no 8 Gary Dillon pick up from the base and set the platform for scrum half Rhys ODonnell to find his new half back partner Richie McMaster who found a great touch on halfway.

Quins came straight back with a great counter attacking run from their captain and full back but just when he looked to be going in for a score his opposite number Bradley McNamara did superbly to dislodge the ball and Instonians had the put in to the scrum 5 metres from their own line. Another very good scrum brought them a penalty and Riche McMaster cleared to touch 10 metres outside his 22.

15:42 Belfast Harlequins 21 – Instonians 27

Another great driving maul from Instonians drove Quins back 30 metres and another penalty with Richie McMaster finding touch on Quins 10 metre line. Instonians moved the ball right across the backline but lost the ball forward in contact.

From the scrum Quins got the ball away quickly from the base and moved it left and then back right and their fullback ran a great line to burst into open space. The Instonians defence was found wanting as they appeared to be marking the support runners instead of concentrating on the real threat which was the man with the ball as he dived over for a great individual score 10 metres to the left of the posts. The conversion made it a 1 score game and the contest had now been turned on its head.

Daniel Keane then replaced his cousin Matthew on the left wing with Schalk Van Der Merwe coming back on for Alan Whitten.

15:50 Belfast Harlequins 21 – Instonians 32

The next score was absolute crucial and Instonians went in search of it. The Quins replacement scrum half however dummied to box kick just outside his 22 and made a good break up the touchline. When he attempted to kick ahead and chase, the Instonians full back Bradley McNamara made a superb interception going at pace and followed this up with a superb searching kick which came to rest just over the Quins line by which time he had sprinted up to force Quins to touch down and drop out from their own line.

From the drop out Instonians won a penalty at the break down and a straight forward kick at goal in midfield. This would have taken them 2 scores clear again but they trust their line out and Richie McMaster found touch 10 metres out from the Quins line on Instonians left. There was no obstruction called this time and the referee had his hand out for a penalty advantage when Instonians had a slick transfer across the backline for Simon McMaster to use his pace and skill to dive over in the far-right hand corner. Richie McMaster was close with the touchline conversion but Instonians now had some breathing space again with under 10 minutes to go.

15:59 Belfast Harlequins 26 – Instonians 32

Instonians attacked again and from another penalty Richie McMaster kicked for touch 10 metres out from the Quins line on the right hand side of the pitch. Another chance for that Oli Clarke hattrick perhaps ? But no, as the throw went right over the line out and Quins cleared to safety.

With time running out Instonians were attacking again but a penalty at the breakdown to Quins and a very good kick to touch just 5 metres out gave Quins the platform and they managed to get over the line for a crucial score in the right-hand corner. The conversion was missed. It was a 6 point game but there could not have been much time left.

Instonians intelligently kicked long and had a good kick chase forcing Quins to throw the ball wide but it was well forward and Instonians had a scrum on the left just inside the Quins 22. No 8 Gary Dillon picked up from the base and made ground and then Instonians worked the ball in-field using runners off the 9 until Rhys O’Donnell called for the ball and passed to Richie McMaster in the pocket for the drop goal on the last play. The ball sailed to the left of the posts and the Quins captain and full back who had a fine game was happy to kick the ball out and take the 2 bonus points which Quins thoroughly deserved for their 2nd half performance.


FULL TIME – Belfast Harlequins 26 – Instonians 32

This was a very exciting game for the large crowd to watch and it certainly was a game of 2 halves. After scoring the opening try Quins would have been very concerned at half time having conceded 4 tries and knowing that Instonians had run riot in the 2nd half of their last encounter. Their 2nd half performance when they were in trouble at scrum time and against the driving maul will have given them great confidence that they can start looking up the table rather than down.

Instonians, on the other hand, will have been very pleased with the 1st half and how they responded to the early opening score and had the bonus point in the bag before half time. They will be concerned however about their 2nd half performance and their defence in particular

MOM today is shared between a forward and a back. The forward is Paul Pritchard who constantly got crucial turnovers at key times and linked well in attack to keep the ball alive and the back is young full back Bradley McNamara for scoring a final individual try, saving a certain try and a magnificent interception on the run to turn defence into attack in one fell swoop.

It would be churlish to be critical of this excellent Instonian side and they move on with a bonus point to next week’s home match with Dolphin. They know that they have to be better and they undoubtedly will. Galway Corinthians and Wanderers refuse to go away in the pursuit of promotion at the top of the league but the mantra remains “one game at a time” and it is Dolphin up next on Saturday 20 September 2024 at Shaws Bridge. See you all there.