Sligo’s resurgence in Division 2B of the Ulster Bank League continued in earnest with a well-constructed 20-16 away win at the aptly named Hamilton Park in Newtownards on Saturday.
A powerful performance from the Sligo pack coupled with an excellent defensive back line showing ensured that Sligo came away with a precious four points from the encounter.
Played in calm conditions, it was Sligo – minus the injured Paddy Pearson and the unavailable Mark Butler – who took the early initiative and enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession in the opening exchanges.
Sligo’s front row of Adrian McHale, Gary Conneely and Shane McGuinness were solid in the scrum, while Peter Mullan and Paddy Conlon were secure at line-out time.
The first scoring opportunity arrived after 15 minutes when Sligo were awarded a penalty following a ruck infringement on the Ards 10-metres line. Daniel Hawkins elected to go for the posts but his effort drifted wide.
Four minutes later another penalty award gave Hawkins the opportunity to redeem his earlier miss and the outhalf bisected the uprights with a well-judged effort from wide on the left side.
Sligo continued to apply the pressure and their well-worked maul was causing a lot of difficulty for their hosts.
The back row of Rory Kerins, Paddy Conlon and Aidan McNulty were on top at the breakdown and scrum-half Billy Leahy was controlling things well from the base.
Sligo’s back three of Hugo Laffitte, Cathal Finneran and David Gerrity were dealing well with any aerial threat and were countering with purpose.
The opening try arrived on the half-hour mark. A penalty on the ’22′ was expertly despatched into the corner by Hawkins. Conneely linked with Mullan at the line-out and the maul was immediately constructed.
The pack, with Jamie Bowes and McGuinness to the fore, drove over the line and Conlon was on hand to secure the touchdown. Hawkins added the extras.
Ards responded and a McLean penalty-kick opened their account but Sligo immediately hit back with another well-struck Hawkins penalty to leave the half time score 13-3 in favour of the visitors.
The second-half saw renewed vigour from the hosts and Sligo’s defensive system was put to the test, but good work from Gavin Foley and Matele Fifita ensured that the midfield door remained locked.
The visitors moved further ahead half-way through the second-half. An excellent scrum break from McNulty opened up the home defence and the
No.8 expertly linked with Fifita. The giant centre brushed off the would-be Ards tackler and used his pace to beat the remaining cover to the line for a superb score. Hawkins again added the extras.
Ards were stung into life and looked to assert their game on their visitors. Two penalties in quick succession followed by a fine McLean try brought the match to an exciting conclusion, but Sligo were not to be outdone and it was the travelling support that cheered loudest when the referee brought the game to a close.
Ards: G Wilson, M McLean, M Taylor, A Hazzard, N Beggs, P Cox, M Banford, M Weir, C Piper, J Wylie, D Calvert, J McCarvey, M Harrison, N McMillan, S Minnis
Replacements: B Diver, M Busby, J Dawson, J Dowey, A Foster
Sligo: D Gerritty, H Laffite, M Fifita, G Foley, C Finneran, D Hawkins, B Leahy, A McHale, G Conneely, S McGuinness, J Bowes, P Mullan, P Conlon, R Kerins, A McNulty
Replacements: R Mannion, B Keane, D Heath, A Williams, G O’Hehir
Referee: K Barry (IRFU)