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Late burst gives Portadown early joy

With Jonathan Bradley

Portadown began the defence of their Kukri Qualifying 1 title with victory over Bangor but their newly-promoted hosts ensured the champions endured an apprehensive afternoon at Upritchard Park.

With only 10 minutes remaining Bangor led by six points but a late try from Rab Reid followed shortly after by a Chris McVitty penalty gave the County Antrim side the four points.

Speaking after the victory, Ports head coach Richard Hedley commented: "We knew we weren't really ready yet for the season so expected to be quite a bit off our best but I was really pleased with the character and intensity that we displayed at the end.

"I think we played the majority of the rugby but Bangor managed to capitalise on a few mistakes from us for two scores and we have a fair bit to build on from that."

With Bangor having added the former Malone trio of Mark Widdowson, Gareth Coughey and Danny Diamond to their ranks over the summer, there had been talk in some quarters that, despite Portadown's consistently strong showings over the past 12 months, the home side would begin the contest as favourites.

Hedley's side are hardly used to being considered underdogs but the coach felt that the unusual tag may have had a beneficial effect on his players.

"There's no better motivation than being told you're going to lose so the talk probably didn't help Bangor in a lot of ways.

"We knew they were a good side and they had a good pre-season so it's a nice win to get at this stage of the season."

Portadown enjoyed the majority of possession and territory during the open exchanges but their efforts yielded only a solitary penalty and it was Bangor who notched the game's first try.

With 16 minutes played, a commanding claim from Richard Corbett at a line-out set up an effective rolling maul and it was Bangor captain Jamie Clegg who eventually forced the ball over the line.

The lead would prove short-lived however as Bangor proved overly hospitable hosts and gifted their visitors a try only minutes later.

Steven Addy lost the ball in the tackle allowing David Whitten to gather without breaking his stride and streak clear for the score.

Portadown's Stuart Lamb, commonly deployed as a loose forward but required at inside centre due to a shortage of backs, proved equally dominant in a less familiar position and extended his side's lead with a superbly determined run that saw him score in the corner.

New recruit Widdowson responded with a try on his competitive Bangor debut but Jason Morgan's conversion attempt cannoned back off the posts to leave the score 15-10 at the break.

Bangor's loosehead prop Paddy Dornan was shown a yellow card shortly after the turn but Portadown could only extend their lead by three points during the ten minutes they enjoyed a numerical advantage.

It looked as if that profligacy would be punished when an intercept try from Morgan reduced the arrears to a solitary point before, with only ten minutes remaining, the home side's pack forced the ball over in the right corner to move ahead by six as well as earning a four-try bonus point.

Great work from Dermy O'Kane produced the late try for Reid, the flanker evading a number of tackles to create the opening, but McVitty's miscued conversion attempt left the visitors still trailing by a point.

The stand-off made no such mistake just four minutes later however when, after Dornan and been dismissed following his second yellow card for having hands in the ruck, he calmly slotted the resulting penalty between the posts to secure an opening day win.

Bangor can still take a degree of comfort from earning two points against the champions on their return to Qualifying 1 while Portadown will once again look to show they have no intention of relinquishing their title meekly when they face another tough game against Donaghadee next weekend.

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