Friends School Lisburn staged a dramatic fightback to win this exciting encounter against Sullivan Upper School in the 4th round of the Northern Bank Schools Cup.
This match was easily my favourite encounter in a weekend packed with rugby. Quite simply, it had it all, thrills, spills, a little argy bargy, all topped off with a barnstorming finish by the home side. The finish was all the more remarkable in that for large periods of the game Sullivan Upper appeared to be in control.
Sullivan were first on the score board with a penalty from out half Carr and the Holywood side quickly added to their score with an interception which saw centre McCandless run clear from the half way line. Carr converted and things looked pretty ominous for the home side who trailed 0 -10.
Friends fought back and were rewarded with a penalty from full back Lewsley to bring the score to 3 -10 but their revival was to be short lived when after a missed touch Sullivan’s No. 6 Scott barged over in the corner. Crucially, the conversion was missed but Sullivan looked comfortable with their 3 – 15 lead.
Friends School fought hard to get back in the game but with Carr controlling things and No. 7 Loughead having a storming game in the loose Sullivan appeared to be comfortable with their lead and as the teams changed ends at half time there appeared to be only one winner.
The second half started pretty much as the first half had ended with both sides cancelling each other out in midfield and though there were chances it looked unlikely that Friends would find a way back into the game.
However I was clearly underestimating the resolve of the Friends players as gradually they began to get on top of their opposite numbers. No. 8 McGuigan began to cause all sorts of problems in the line outs and out half McIvor finally stepped up to control proceedings bringing the hard running and highly elusive Vance into the game.
With Friends now camped in their opponents 22 and roared on by a large crowd the breakthrough finally came when Vance crashed over with ten minutes to go. Lewsley converted and the home side had a glimmer of a chance with the score now reading 10 -15.
However the home team had expended so much energy to get the score that it appeared unlikely that they would be able to raise themselves again and as time ticked on Sullivan were still favourites to go through.
Both sides fought themselves to a standstill in the closing minutes but it was the Lisburn side that were able to dig that little bit deeper and raised their game yet again, their pressure eventually telling when centre Cochrane found a bit of space and blasted over under the posts for the home sides second try. Lewsley converted to give Friends a slender two point lead with only minutes remaining.
The drama continued as Sullivan spent the closing minutes camped inside their opponents 22, but with Captain Trimble rallying his troops for one last effort the home side held on for a remarkable 17 -15 victory.
Friends now go forward to face Ballymena Academy in the Quarter Finals of the Northern Bank Schools Cup.