Another chapter began on Saturday in the history of City of Armagh RFC when the First XV played their first match in the top tier of Irish club rugby away to Cork Constitution. Against a team that finished in the top four last season, the Armagh team put in a very creditable performance, taking home a losing bonus point. The team’s preparation was disrupted with both starting props unavailable and captain, Josh McKinley, out with concussion.
Jonny Morton and veteran Phil Fletcher started in the front row and James Crummie replaced McKinley in the engine room. The orchard county side made a bright start at Templehill in Cork and dominated the first 15 minutes. The visitors missed an early penalty attempt and the Cork side slowly came more into the match and in only their second entry into the Armagh, James Taylor scored the opening try of the match. The outhalf converted his own score and the home side led 7-0 with 20 minutes played. On 33 minutes, City of Armagh’s captain, Nigel Simpson, burst through from a ruck on the halfway line and stormed towards the Cork line. Up in support was Alex Johnston and the scrum took a scoring pass to make history with Armagh's first ever try in Division 1A.
Outhalf, Brayden Laing was successful with the conversion and the match was tied at 7-7. Armagh then had a chance to take the lead when awarded a penalty for a high tackle, but Laing’s kick just dropped short. Just before the halftime break, Cork made a dangerous break but a knock on let Armagh off the hook. The halftime whistle went and City of Armagh had made a very encouraging start with the scoreline 7-7. The second half began with Ross Taylor on for the injured McNeice. Cork kicked a penalty into the corner and set up an attacking maul. The ball was moved out the backline and Taylor crossed for his second converted try of the match on 45 minutes. Two minutes later, the home side punished Armagh again with a break from halfway, slicing through the visitor’s defence and fullback, Coomber scored out wide for Taylor to convert. Suddenly Armagh found themselves trailing 21-7. On 51 minutes, Armagh showed they weren’t going to roll over and a clever chip behind the defence by Laing was collected by Matthew Hooks and the centre scored in the corner. Laing put over an excellent conversion and Armagh were back in the match at 21-14.
Cork looked to respond and an attack saw Armagh scramble back in defence before winning a penalty. Sam Karlsen joined the action, replacing Jack Treanor and a penalty saw Armagh take play into the Cork 22. A great catch and drive from a lineout had Cork under pressure and McNeice, who had returned to the field, looked to punch through the Cork defence. The visitors pounded the Cork tryline but heroic defence by the home side held firm before they created a crucial turnover to clear their line. On 68 minutes, Glen Faloon and Andrew Willis combined well on the left wing to almost create a score but a forward pass was called by the referee. Five minutes later, it was Cork who showed their clinical edge when a break through a ruck saw Armagh’s defence exposed and Kelleher crossed for Cork’s bonus point try.
Taylor converted and Constitution now led 28-14 with 73 minutes played. City of Armagh looked to rescue a losing bonus point from the match and yellow card for a deliberate knock on and penalty set up a final attack in the Cork 22. The Armagh forwards made repeated drives for the line, with the team showing great spirit and were rewarded in injury time when Nigel Simpson touched down for his team’s third try. Brayden Laing had a difficult conversion attempt but the New Zealander put in a super kick to secure the losing bonus point for Armagh.
The final whistle went with the scoreline, Cork Constitution 28, City of Armagh 21.
After the match, Head Coach, Chris Parker commented, “I’m very proud of the players for digging in and getting the try in injury time and for Brayden showing great composure to land the conversion to secure the losing bonus point. It was great to see so many supporters had travelled down from Armagh and hopefully the team’s performance made them proud. However, we still lost and to get our first victory we are going to have to improve in a number of areas to present a challenge to Lansdowne. We will take confidence from the performance but look to improve at training this week to prepare for another huge challenge on Saturday”.
City of Armagh make their home debut in Division 1A on Saturday with Dublin side, Lansdowne, the visitors to the Palace Grounds. Kick-off is at 2.30pm and a huge home support would be welcome.
Photo Credits: Irish Rugby TV