Down High miss out in thriller

Down High miss out in thriller

7 February 2018

DOWN High bowed out of the Schools’ Cup when they travelled to Holywood on Saturday for their fourth round tie against Sullivan Upper, having comprehensively defeated Lurgan College in the previous round. 

They knew Sullivan would be a different proposition, but arrived with confidence and plenty of expectation.

In the end, the fixture was a fantastic advert for schoolboy rugby with both teams exchanging blows for the full 70 minutes, but it was the Belfast side that sealed a place in the final eight of the competition.

Down opened the scoring around seven minutes into the game. A pin-point accurate Greg Hutley kick in open play left Sullivan with a line-out deep in their own 22. Down High then pinched the line-out before prop Aaron Haslett barged his way over. Hutley added the conversion.

Down continued to put pressure on the hosts, but they were unable to exploit the opportunities they created for themselves. 

Around 15 minutes in, momentum shifted and Sullivan camped themselves in the Down half. For much of this period Down were heroic in defence with Callum Dunn, Martin Rodgers and Stuart Campbell racking up impressive tackle counts.

On the 23-minute mark, however, Sullivan eventually found a way through for a converted try.

Down responded well and quickly found themselves back in Sullivan territory. They displayed patience in attack and after Sullivan creeped offside, Hutley kicked overt a penalty. 

In almost exactly the same circumstances, albeit at the other end of the field, Sullivan added a penalty of their own before half-time, leaving things all square at the break.

In the second half Sullivan got off to a commanding start and within 20 minutes had established a ten-point lead.

Their first score of the half came after a line break in midfield and some excellent continuity work leading to a converted try. 

Their second came after some sustained pressure saw the Down High defence stray offside again, leaving the Sullivan kicker with the chance of three straightforward points.

Despite these setbacks, Down High showed fantastic resilience and launched a comeback. 

With 12 minutes to go they earned a penalty which Hutley slotted through the uprights. This left a tense final 10 minutes as Down chased a try that would level the match and force a replay. 

They came close, with five minutes to go when Robin Wilson delivered an inch-perfect cross-field kick, but the Sullivan defence scrambled well and put wing Andy McCoubrey under enough pressure that he was unable to gather. 

Down continued on their mission to score, but a spilled ball close to full time left Sullivan in possession and with the simple task of kicking the ball off the pitch, calling proceedings to a disappointing halt for the Downpatrick squad.

Down High now enter the Subsidiary Shield in which they are the defending champions. Their quarter-final will be against Royal School, Dungannon, on Saturday, Feburary 17, in Downpatrick.