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Rainey make no mistake and clinch title at first attempt


Rain supreme: Rainey celebrate
Rain supreme: Rainey celebrate
Conor Fitzsimmons
Determined: Rainey try scorer Damien McMurray in action

By Ronnie Ingram

Rainey clinched the SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership title in their first season in Division 1 following a resounding 38-5 victory over their nearest challengers Banbridge at Hatrick Park.

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Fourteen seasons ago the Magherafelt team were still in the Junior ranks, winning the All Ireland Junior Cup and also securing entry into the AIL.

Now they have won the ultimate prize in local rugby, the Stevenson Shield, and at mid season are lying second in AIL 2A and well in contention to gain promotion to Division 1.

After an evenly contested first half, Bann were no match for the physicality of the home side who went on to score a further four tries to bring their total to six.

The visitors went in front after five minutes with a try from winger Joe Finnegan but Rainey struck back with a Conor Fitzsimmons score which Andy Magrath goaled. They made it 12-5 by the interval when, after seven phases and a penalty, flanker Brian Roberts broke free to crash over.

Just after the restart, centre Damien McMurray added another converted try but then yellow cards followed for home players Adam Bratton and Conor Brackenschmidt.

Despite these setbacks, Rainey were still in charge although there was a lull in the scoring.

In the final 15 minutes, Michael McCusker, McMurray and Brackenschmidt also crossed and Magrath brought his tally to four conversions.

The title may have been decided with one series of fixtures remaining but the attention is now drawn to the relegation issue as the loser between Ballynahinch and Ballymena at Ballymacarn next Saturday is destined for Division 2 next season.

Presently, Rainey have 20 points, Banbridge 11, Queen's and Malone nine each, Ballynahinch seven and Ballymena five.

In Division 2, promotion appears to be between Omagh and City of Armagh.

Omagh have 16 points and Armagh 15 and the latter, with two games to play, do not face the County Tyrone team. Dungannon have 13 points, Quins nine, Bangor seven and City of Derry two.

Division 1: Rainey 38 Banbridge 5, Ballymena 20 Malone 17, Queen's 10 Ballynahinch 20.

Division 2: Dungannon 40 Bangor 26, Omagh 59 City of Derry 7, Belfast Harlequins v Armagh postponed.

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