Late scores get Gareth Fry's boys off to a flying start
CIYMS came out on top in the first Belfast derby of the season after two scores in the final quarter saw them pull away from Cooke.
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With last week's fixture against Donaghadee postponed due to a club bereavement, Saturday represented CI's first game of the year in Kukri Qualifying One and also a competitive debut for new head coach Gareth Fry.
The former Malone man took charge at Belmont this summer and had to field a number of unfamiliar names in his inaugural line-up due to injuries and unavailability.
With No8 Ross Hackney taking no part in pre-season due to injury, and both scrum-half Michael Wilson and centre Andy Hodgen not available for selection, the east Belfast side were lacking some of their usual try-scoring threat but will be enthused by their controlled showing this early in the season.
After the win CI captain Gavin Woods was measured in his appraisal of the side's performance, admitting that some early-season kinks still needed to be ironed out.
He said: "We're happy to get the win but we were probably a bit rusty just because it was the first game.
"Things were in the balance at half-time but I thought we had a bit more control in the second-half.
"We weren't as clinical as we would have liked, we probably left a few scores out there but it's always good to get a win first time out and feel like there's still a bit more to come.
"With a few games under our belts things like the final pass and putting the man into space will come."
And Woods was especially pleased with the contribution of some new players, even if the youthful influx has him feeling like a veteran of the squad.
"I'm feeling old now because the average age of the team is probably 22 or 23 but the enthusiasm was very good and there was plenty of effort and plenty of commitment."
Cooke – who lost to a Dromore side led by former CI coach Graham Cloke at Barban Hill last weekend – are adjusting to a raft of summer departures that include brothers Richard and Ashley Finlay, Alex Gourley and David Creighton while Phil Cartmill is set for a lengthy lay off due to injury. Such upheaval was not overly evident in the opening stages and CI had only the boot of Sam Morgan to thank for their early lead.
The Auckland native has just recently joined the club but displayed a lot of confidence off the kicking tee.
The Kiwi will have been disappointed with his first effort when he pushed the ball left from just outside the 22 but it proved to be nothing more than an early sighter. Five minutes later and he had given his side the lead with an assured effort that had appeared far more testing than his initial attempt.
On the quarter-hour mark, when Cooke were whistled for obstruction, he went for the posts from even further out but again made the kick look routine.
Cooke out-half Ross Robinson cut the deficit to three with a penalty of his own but it took a strong tackle from Ian Anderson to prevent CI from scoring in the right corner soon after.
Following a penalty from distance that came back off the post, Morgan added another three points when Andrew Nelson went off his feet at the ruck.
With the interval less than five minutes away, Robinson slotted a further penalty in response to make the score 9-6 and, although Alex Gourley's running ability threatened a breakthrough, that is the way it remained at half-time.
The game stayed tight after half-time but it was ill-discipline that proved the home side's undoing.
Substitute prop Russell Hunter and player-coach Colin Atkinson both received yellow cards, forcing the south Belfast side to play 20 of the last 30 minutes with only 14 men.
With a quarter of the game remaining, and Hunter in the sin bin, a CI scrum deep in Cooke territory provided the game's first try through Matt Armstrong.
The substitute who had taken the place of Duncan Gleadhill in the back row peeled off the base and accelerated round the corner before dotting down with ease.
Baker pushed the conversion across the posts but the visitors now knew that their hosts would need to score twice.
That never looked likely and, this time with Atkinson prowling along the sideline, CI ended any lingering hopes of a comeback with a try 10 minutes from time.
Harry Howard – another former Campbell College pupil in the CI ranks who joined from Harlequins this summer – angled a chip that bounced favourably back into his hands and the young wing touched down under the posts to ensure victory.