Wexford 14 Balbriggan 13
Balbriggan fell agonisingly short in their top of the table encounter with Wexford Wanderers in Wexford on Saturday night. Balbriggan went into the game having won seven games out of seven in the Leinster League and knew that victory would have placed an almost insurmountable hurdle over their nearest rivals Wexford. As it was, Balbriggan were felled by a very late penalty having lead for the entire match.
Balbriggan started the encounter brightly, moving the ball quickly through their backs and constantly probing the Wexford defence for gaps that would bring an early score. Constant pressure from Balbriggan eventually brought a penalty which Kyle Healy put away from an angle and some distance out from the posts. Three v Nil up was the least Balbriggan deserved having applied all the early pressure. That penalty was quickly followed by a superbly worked try, scored by out half Ian Murphy out on the left wing. The try came after a series of probing drives by the Balbriggan pack which culminated in the backs moving the ball wide and Murphy burrowing his way through a dense crowd of Wexford defenders. Unfortunately, the difficult conversion was very narrowly missed. From the restart, Wexford were immediately awarded a penalty after Balbriggan were pinged for not releasing the ball in the ruck. The Wexford outhalf landed a monster kick which was an ominous portent of what was to happen later in the match. Soon after this penalty, Wexford enjoyed their first, and only period of pressure in the first half when, with about 10 minutes to go to half time, they worked a move through their backs down Balbriggan’s right wing and were only held up just short of the line by some desperate but brave tackling. The half time score of 8 v 3 to Balbriggan was poor reward for the travelling team who had enjoyed much the better of it in that opening half.
The second half was to prove a different affair than the first. Wexford, having weathered the Balbriggan storm in the first half, grew in confidence and struck within three minutes of the restart with a try through their backs. A couple of missed tackles in the mid field and some very fast running allowed Wexford score out wide on the left wing. The conversion was very narrowly missed and the score were even at 8 v 8. Balbriggan then immediately struck back with a wonderfully worked try of their own scored on the wing by Con Casey, who was playing in an unfamiliar position on the night. This was to be Balbriggan’s last score and there was still a half an hour of the game to run. From this point on Balbriggan came under sustained and intense pressure from Wexford. The Wexford lineout functioned very well on the night whilst Balbriggan’s was under constant pressure. The Balbriggan scrum and maul were more than up to the task, but what proved the difference on the night was the constant threat posed by Wexford’s backs and their kicking skills. With about 15 minutes of the game left, Wexford were awarded a long shot at goal from a Balbriggan infringement. The Wexford kicker didn’t miss and with the scores now at 11 v 13 to Balbriggan, we were set for a grandstand finish. The killer blow was struck with about 7 minutes of the game left when Wexford, having been held out after wave upon wave of surging moves by their forwards and backs, were awarded a penalty right in front of the posts on the 22. The kick was good and Balbriggan were now, for the first time, behind in the game and a man down after a player had been yellow carded in the incident that lead to the penalty. The team faced an uphill struggle from here, but heads did not drop and the team gave it one last big effort to salvage the win. Balbriggan were rewarded for their valiant efforts with a long range penalty from the Wexford 10 yard line, but the kick at goal came up short and the last chance for victory was gone.
This was a tremendous match which showed all that is good about the amateur game of rugby. The game was played in a good spirit, and though it was a hard encounter between two evenly matched teams, it was a clean and exciting game. Balbriggan remain 6 points clear of second placed Wexford but have played a game more that their nearest rivals. There will be a return fixture when the two teams meet for the final time this season in Balbriggan in early February. That game already has the feel of a Cup Final about it.