Coleraine 19 Lisburn 16
At Coleraine last Saturday, just before Ireland took on and beat France in the Aviva, the Smiley Monroe Lisburn 1st XV took on the fourth placed locals with a much weakened team due to injury and unavailability.
As it turned out, Coleraine were also under strength and as it transpired, Lisburn lost a great opportunity to bag four vital league points.
The first quarter of the game was played with both teams testing each other out in the good underfoot conditions at the end of which Coleraine had knocked over three penalties to Lisburn’s one, a well taken shot by scrumhalf Graham Squirrell.
At this point the Lisburn pack were starting to warm to their task and putting the locals under much pressure, both in the set pieces and the loose where the front row of Mark Gilkinson, Peter Graham and Phil Jefferson had their opposites in all sorts of trouble.
A drive at the Coleraine line by big second row Andy Barron almost brought the first try of the game but with the line at their mercy, a forward pass gave the home team respite.
With five minutes to the interval, and Lisburn camped on the Coleraine line for long periods, it looked as if a try was inevitable.
A burst from centre David Gilkinson put him through ten metres out but instead of running in he decided to pass the ball out to a flying second row who unfortunately dropped it and the opportunity was once again lost.
Coach Mark Healy gathered his troops together at half time and Lisburn started the second period in good heart and on the attack. Another Squirrell penalty narrowed the gap to 9-6 but Coleraine extended it again with a similar effort on ten minutes.
Squirrell then missed a further penalty from close in but at this stage the Lisburn pack were becoming very dominant and after two strong scrums during which the home forwards were pushed back ten metres on each occasion, the referee eventually lost patience and awarded the inevitable penalty try under the posts.
Lisburn were at last in front by 12-13.
Squirrell then increased the lead to 12-16 from another simple penalty near the posts and with just seven minutes left on the clock it looked as if Lisburn’s clear dominance of the forward exchanges was about to pay dividends.
By this point, Lisburn had lost two of their most influential players, centre David Gilkinson with a hamstring strain and brother Aaron Gilkinson, the reserve prop, also with a leg injury, and how Lisburn missed them in the final few minutes.
Coleraine spurned all penalty awards near the posts as three points would be insufficient to make up the leeway, but kicked for position until they were within reach of the Lisburn line.
A tapped penalty saw them run the ball out the back line and a straight cut through at pace by a Coleraine centre saw him breach the Lisburn defence and score under the posts.
The conversion gave them a 19-16 lead and with only one minute remaining, Lisburn had agonisingly lost, albeit getting a vital losing bonus point.
It remains to be seen what this loss will do to the league table in the final analysis.
Lisburn have a free date next Saturday, following which they take on Academy (Away) and Randalstown, UUC and Enniskillen, all at home.
To ensure they stay up in Division 2 of the Qualifying League, they will need to win a number of these games.
In the meantime the seconds had a good win last Saturday over Academy 2s to climb to third place in the Junior League. Well done to Phil Clarke and his squad.