AIL 2B 20th January 2024
Scorers: M.McCusker(2*Try), McLean(2*Pen)

After last Saturday’s disappointing loss to Dungannon in AIL 2B, Rainey welcomed 2nd place Galway Corinthians to Hatrick Park for what promised to be a tense encounter.  The previous match between the two teams resulted in a 5-try rout for the Magherafelt men, but on this occasion the tables were turned as Rainey secured a 16-10 victory taking them back to fifth place in the league.

Conditions were blustery, with the home side opting to play with the advantage of the elements in the first half. An early maul which made a good 15m foreshadowed what was to come as Rainey exerted early pressure, and a scrum penalty took them to the 5m line.  A catch and drive was inevitable, but an illegal collapse of the maul saw the process repeated.  With Corinthians unable to resist legally, the pack made short work of driving over the line, flanker M.McCusker getting the touchdown.  Out-half McLean was just wide with a difficult conversion.

A fumble by Corinthians on halfway allowed No8 A.Montgomery to hack downfield and win a scrum on 10m.  When the Corinthians pack was penalised once more, McLean slotted over another 3-pointer.

With the home pack clearly dominant in the tight, the scrum penalties kept coming, but Corinthians proved to be adept at blunting their effect.  Switching tactics, Rainey brought their backs into the game, eventually winning another lineout 10m out.  Again the catch and drive was employed to devastating effect, M.McCusker getting his second score of the day.  McLean’s conversion was thwarted by the elements yet again.

A rare sortie into the Rainey half saw Corinthians work their way to the Rainey 5m, but they lacked the firepower upfront to trouble the Rainey pack.  Swinging it wide, they sought to stretch the home defence, but a series of ferocious tackles sent them back.  With the defence holding firm, an injudicious late tackle from Lock R.McCusker undid all the good work, with Rainey reduced to 14 men.  Thankfully, a steal by flanker Lee at the subsequent lineout and a monumental box kick from scrum-half Donaghy took play deep into Corinthians territory to relieve the pressure.

Although a man down, the Rainey defence continued to hold fast, but as has often been the case this season, their indiscipline on occasion allowed Corinthians to retain the ball, even if they were making little headway.  Eventually forcing a lineout, the backs were brought into play again, their industry winning a penalty on the 22’ which McLean duly converted.

There was then puzzlement in the Rainey ranks when fullback was clearly taken out in the air from the restart, but the offending Corinthians player somehow escaped sanction beyond a penalty.

The second half started with the Rainey faithful wondering if their 16-point lead would be enough as the elements now favoured the visitors, and the early signs did not look promising.  Playing with renewed enterprise, the Corinthians backs began to spread the ball in a way they had never managed in the first half.  Somehow Rainey withstood the attack, and a series of drives up the middle of the park by O’Hagan, Hutchinson and Lee took play back into Corinthians territory.  Working patiently through the phases, including an inch-perfect crossfield kick by McLean to winger O’Neill, they made it to within 10m of the Corinthians line, before a turnover and kick downfield saw them defending in their own 22’ once more.

Reduced to 14 for the second time when prop McSwiggan was shown yellow, the 7-man pack did well to withstand a scrum under the posts, but unable to clear their lines by kicking into the gale, they ceded territory to the opposition by default, while managing to retain the ball for long periods.

The score had to come however, and ironically, Rainey had been restored to full strength when the Corinthians out-half spotted his winger unmarked and a crossfield kick allowed him to touchdown unmolested.  The conversion was good.

Rainey were soon in trouble again when a clearance by McLean was charged down and a soft penalty gifted Corinthians 3 points.

With only a converted try now separating the teams, the tension was palpable.  Both sides attempted to play attacking rugby, but mistakes crept in across the board and neither side was able to make much headway for the final few minutes, allowing Rainey to run out deserved winners.

Next week, Rainey travel south to Skerries, before the a home encounter with Belfast Harlequins on 10th February

TEAM: T.O’Hagan, D.O’Neill(c), A.McSwiggan, B.Brown, R.McCusker, M.Lee, M.McCusker, A.Montgomery, A.Donaghy, S.McLean, C.Fitzsimons, A.Brown, D.McMurray, M.O’Neill, L.Regan.
SUBS: K.Donaghy, M.Nevin, T.Hutchinson, D.Devlin, L.Quinn


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