The Ulster derby in Division 1B at a sunny Deramore lived up to its pre-match billing as a close-fought affair saw Ballymena prevail over Belfast Harlequins.
Harlequins started off the stronger team and got on the board quickly with a third minute penalty from centre Lane. Another breakdown infringement gave Lane the opportunity to increase the lead to 6 points in as many minutes. Harlequins continued to control the opening quarter of the game and once more were able to put another 3 points on the board after another penalty was awarded to Quins, again Lane made no mistake in keeping the score board ticking over giving his side a 9-0 lead.
Ballymena responded well from the kick off immediately putting pressure on the receiver which resulted in a penalty against the home side for sealing off. Out Half Tim Small made no mistake with his first effort of the day taking the score to 9-3. Soon after, Ballymena were awarded another penalty. An ambitious penalty goal attempt from Small grazed the post from about 45m out. Ballymena started to take a strangle hold of the game after a cutting break from Tim Small almost put Mike McComish away as Ballymena started to make good use of their increased possession and territory. A key moment in the match just before half time saw Ballymena turn down a kickable penalty, opting for the corner. Despite getting turned over a few phases later, great work from David Shanahan put Harlequins under pressure clearing their lines and a great charge down from Clive Ross was pounced on by Stephen Mulholland. Tim Small converted the try to push Ballymena into a 10-9 lead just on the stroke of Half time.
At half time experienced heads, Bryan Young, Ian Caldwell and Marty Irwin were introduced and it saw Ballymena start off the second half in enterprising style with David Shanahan and Tim Small combining well down the blindside to make good ground straight from the kick off. Soon after Ballymena started to exert some pressure on the Harlequins scrum winning a scrum against the head after a fantastic shove from the Ballymena pack. Quins gained some territory with some clever kicking from their half packs. An attacking scrum on the Ballymena 5m line saw the Harlequins 8 Reidy go over a after a nice blindside set piece. Pushing Harlequins in a 14-9 lead. The touchline conversion was missed by Lane.
Ballymena responded quickly, with the Ballymena back row of Mulholland, Ross and McComish working hard to pressurise the Harlequins kicking game, when a clearance touch was found, a quick line out by Jordan Foster saw Sean Taylor and Tim Small go wide and make good ground in a sharp attack. Sean Taylor was involved again a few phases later when he pounced on a loose ball to make a good jinking run which set up quick ball for Out half Tim Small who’s dummy and pace got the better of the Harlequins defence to go over for a try which he converted giving Ballymena a 17-14 lead.
Ballymena failed to securely receive the kick off and Harlequins managed to quickly gain momentum in attack in the Ballymena 22 but a big tackle from Clive Ross was quickly followed by a great pilfer from hooker John Andrew with the resulting penalty allowing Ballymena to clear their lines, regaining possession and territory. Soon after a penalty against the Ballymena front row allowed Harlequins an opportunity to get some points back on the board but Best was unsuccessful with the penalty attempt.
Ballymena started to take hold of the game with their scrum & maul really putting Quins on the back foot. This gave the Braidmen increased time and possession in the Harlequins half and the confidence to turn down a couple of kickable penalties to push themselves deep into the Harlequins 22. Off the resulting line out another great rolling maul was pulled down by the opposition pack and a few phases later Stephen Mulholland was helped by Mike McComish and Aidy Kirpatrick over the line only but denied a try after a Harlequins defender got himself below the ball. With no advantage gained, Ballymena put the penalty into the corner and another maul saw them go close. After several phases the referee lost patience with repeat infringements in the red zone and sent Harlequins openside Loughead to the sin bin. Again Ballymena turned down an easy 3 points and opted for the scrum. With the man advantage Ballymena spread the ball and Ricky Andrew put Tim Small in for his second try of the day pushing his personal tally to 17 for the day and putting Ballymena into a 22-14 and Harlequins just out of bonus point reach.
Harlequins worked hard in the last 10 to get back within losing bonus point reach with good attacking runs from Michael Allen and their lively scrum half but Ballymena held strong in defence and closed out the game to grab their second successive win of the UBL campaign. The victory over local rivals Harlequins means that Ballymena hold on to second spot in the Division 1B league table, behind Galwegians.
Coach Andy Graham will be happy with the powerful performance of the scrum and maul and the continued effectiveness of his back row but says there is plenty of things to work on ahead of next weeks Home Fixture against Dublin University at Eaton Park at 2.30.
Match Highlights are provided by Harry Cook from Image Media Films and Match Gallery from Ardclinis Photography
Gallery from Ardclinis Photography – ‘Like’ their page for more pictures throughout the season:
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