The tension was almost unbearable at Balreask Old where Rainey Old Boys just held on to beat Navan 26-22 and maintain their six point lead at the top of the table.
If ever there was a game of two halves, this was it. Leading 26-3 and well in control, Rainey lost two key players through injury and had another yellow carded. Navan proceeded to take full advantage as Rainey fell apart and were denied an injury time winner by a forward pass decision.
Rainey continued to make life difficult for themselves in the four minutes of time added on, but somehow survived to clock up another victory.
It was all Navan in the opening minutes as Rainey struggled to get their hands on the ball. Two kickable penalties were missed and an ambitious drop at goal went close before a short drop out from O’Connor and a raking kick from Martin took Rainey into the home 22’. O’Connor pulled a very kickable shot at goal wide, but made no mistake shortly afterwards from a similar position following another lovely tactical kick from Martin. And from the restart, Heaney got up well to contest a high kick from Martin and win a penalty which O’Connor converted.
Growing in confidence, Rainey moved the ball about in style and when Simpson did well to pick up a loose pass on the run, forwards Sufferin, McGowan and O’Kane took it on to present O’Connor with his third successful strike of the day.
They then conceded a silly penalty, but a late tackle on McCluggage cost Navan a lot of ground and Harbinson did well to reclaim possession for the pack to edge forward and help Martin over just to the left of the posts.
Two minutes from the interval, No.8 McGowan, Rainey’s main source of lineout ball in Barker’s absence, had to retire with a rib cartilege injury, but when centre McMurray made a fine break, play moved acrossfield for scrum-half McCluggage to nip over for a vital try which O’Connor improved.
When O’Connor made it 26-3 just after the restart, no-one could have predicted what was to happen in the minutes that followed. Rainey were blown up for delaying the put-in at a scrum and a quickly-taken tap free led to a Navan try.
Martin was then sin-binned and Navan, winners of all five of their home games prior to this game, began to sense that the tide was turning in their favour.
McCluggage then retired with a leg injury and a by now rampant Navan added a second try after 57 minutes. Winning no lineout ball and coughing up possession too cheaply, Rainey were in disarray and when a misplaced O’Connor kick went dead, Navan swooped to the other end to score again.
With less than ten minutes remaining, O’Connor had a great chance of easing Rainey fears, but pulled his kick from the 22’ across the posts. Rainey drove at the Navan line in search of a game-clinching try, but could not hold on to the ball long enough and when Navan worked their way back upfield, their big second row broke through the middle to create a clear overlap on the left.
Navan were understandably ecstatic, while Rainey were left shaking their heads. Then it dawned on everyone present at the Meath venue that the referee was bringing back play for a forward pass. Navan still had time to snatch it, but Rainey scraped home for the all-important win.
Rainey Old Boys: M. O’Connor, A. Campbell, D. McMurray, S. Simpson, A. Clarke, G. Martin, A. McCluggage, S. Rutledge, S. Sufferin, N. O’Kane, D. Dawson, M. Shiels, A. Harbinson, P. Heaney, P. McGowan. Subs: P.Stewart (McGowan 38), M. McClelland (McCluggage 50), T. Burns (Harbinson 65), P. Boyle (O’Kane 65), A. Dysart (Sufferin 75)
Rainey Old Boys v Ballynahinch (2.30pm)
Ards II v Rainey II
Bangor II v Rainey III