The Offload: Resolute Sligo end Instonians’ 32-game winning streak

Fortress Sligo; Leinster welcome back Michael Milne; Connacht’s David progressive Hawkshaw; a numbers game; and word up

Sligo rugby club grabbed one of the most prized scalps in Irish club rugby when they inflicted a 25-24 defeat on Instonians in their AIL Division 2B clash at Hamilton Park, thereby ending the Belfast club’s remarkable run of success that spans a season and a half.

Last year Instonians, back in senior rugby for the first time since being relegated from the All-Ireland League in 2014 won 18 matches, all with four-try bonus points, in claiming the Division 2C title with a maximum 90 points.

This season they won their first 14 games, again all with try-scoring bonus points, but on Saturday, Sligo ended that 32-match winning streak, while also becoming the first side to deny the four-try bonus point.

Sligo captain Mathew Earley, a try scorer on the day, said: “We are going to go at any team that comes here. I know they had a great run, 18 from 18 last year and 14 from 14 this year coming here, so we knew we were going up against the best side in the division. We showed we were the better side today.


“The reverse fixture, we were well in it at half-time, we knew we could go toe-to-toe with them before they got away from us up there and ended up giving us a bit of a beating. We had no doubt in our mind that we could win the game today.”

Sligo, who were already guaranteed a playoff place ahead of Instonians’ win, will take on Buccaneers next weekend at the same venue in the Connacht Senior Cup final, having won the toss for home advantage. Earley said: “It’ll be a massive day for the club and our supporters.” Sligo have already won the provincial league and will be looking to complete a double they last managed in 2019.

Instonians have a nine-point advantage over second-placed Wanderers at the top of Division 2B with three rounds of matches remaining.

Leinster’s Michael Milne back with a bang

It was quite the cameo from Leinster loosehead prop Michael Milne who came on as a replacement in the province’s URC win over Cardiff. In his 46 minutes on the pitch after replacing the injured Jack Boyle, the Offaly native scored two tries and claimed the man-of-the-match award.

The 25-year-old returned from an 8½-month lay-off through injury last week in a friendly against Saracens, bridging a gap to the Munster match on May 13th, his previous outing in a blue jersey. He’s amassed 11 tries in 33 caps, a pretty fair strike rate for a prop.

“It means a lot to this group to go out there and win. I owe a lot to my physio Sam, he had to put up with a lot from me in the eight months. I owe a lot to him, and I owe a lot to my family for keeping my head up and just [keeping me] trucking along … I felt fit out there and it was good to be back. I was raring to go and, hopefully, you saw that out there,” he said.

Leinster travel to face Bath in a friendly, something to which Milne is looking forward. “This group is mad for games and to put our names down on a jersey. I am really looking forward to the challenge in Bath.”

A word too for Mike Haley, who produced a try-scoring five-star, man-of-the-match, performance in Munster’s win over Zebre in Cork, on his 99th appearance for the province. He could only have been a whisker ahead of centre Alex Nankevill, who had a brilliant game.

David Hawkshaw burnishes reputation

Connacht’s victory over the Scarlets was backboned by several excellent individual displays but arguably none better than David Hawkshaw. The 24-year-old, despite playing out of position at outside centre, formed a potent midfield partnership with Cathal Forde, the Dubliner offering a reminder of his considerable footballing ability.

Hawkshaw, whose young brother Daniel is in the academy, has been unlucky with injuries from time to time starting with a particularly horrible one, in a training session ahead of an under-20 Six Nations game against France that ruled him, the captain, out of the remainder of the Grand Slam winning campaign in 2019.

He’s had one or two more since then but when fit he adds hugely to any team, a point he’s proved to Connacht supporters since joining the western province in 2022. Ostensibly an outhalf or inside centre, he caused the Scarlets all manner of problems with his lines of running, his footwork, and his ability to fight through the initial contact.

He’s made 10 of his 24 appearances for Connacht this season — one try against his former province Leinster — and if he continues to bring that attacking nous then Connacht coach Pete Wilkins is going to have some interesting upcoming selection issues to ponder.

By the Numbers: 100

Leinster appearances for Jordan Larmour, having reached the milestone in the 33-20 victory over Cardiff at the Arms Park. The 26-year-old made his debut for the province in 2017 and has since scored 39 tries.

Word of Mouth

“The Irish teams are a little bit like a slow poison. You can be 21-7 against them, and in the blink of the eye you can be 20 points down. Even at half-time it’s 15-12 but they go through some phases which take your legs away. All in all, it was a decent performance.” Cardiff head coach Matt Sherratt pays the Irish provinces a compliment; or at least this column thinks it is.