Once again playing conditions at Eaton Park were ideal – no wind, a mild day and firm conditions underfoot, and both teams in this First Trust Senior Cup quarter final did their best to entertain the sparse crowd with eighty minutes of fast paced, open rugby. For the second time this month Ballymena were on the scoresheet almost from the kick off. They were awarded a penalty just inside their own half, and before Banbridge could get organised John Creighton, who has proved to be a really valuable addition to the squad, took a quick tap and set off at pace. The cover caught up with him about five metres out from the line, but Glenn Baillie was on hand to keep the movement going and when the ball was set back, Creighton was there again to feed Patrick McGowan who was driven over for the try with only two minutes on the clock. Callum Patterson, who had taken over the place kicking duties for the day, missed the difficult conversion.
Undeterred by this early setback, Banbridge then dominated play for the next fifteen minutes, but a series of mistakes forced on them by the resolute home defence kept them scoreless. After eighteen minutes their persistence paid off when No6 Bntley went over for a try at the posts, converted by Thompson for a 7-5 lead. That was the only time that they troubled the scoreboard, because Ballymena began to exert control and scored four unanswered tries. The first of these came when a promising looking Banbridge attack broke down and Martin Irwin picked up the loose ball and fed Jonny Rosborough on the left wing. He looked to have clear run but after a fifty metre dash he was hunted down. The ball was recycled and out half Glenn Baillie threw out a long pass to McBurney who swept in at the corner with the visitors’ defence completely outflanked, to put Ballymena back in the lead at 10-7. Their third try of the day was a great team effort with Patterson getting the touch down for a try which he converted himself. He then rounded off the first half scoring with a penalty leaving Ballymena 20-7 ahead at half time.
A lineout steal by McGowan, whose all-round contribution was impressive, and a clever kick by Creighton set up a good attacking position. Ballymena gain showed patience, went through the phases and a typical run through the middle by Ian Caldwell, making a welcome return, found McGowan in support. The ball was moved left to Irwin whose long pass was tipped on into the hands of Beattie, who went over unopposed for another unconverted try, making the score 25-7.
A penalty into the corner set up a lineout drive but the chance seemed to have gone when the ball went loose and was hacked ahead by Banbridge. But Rosborough retrieved the position and Baillie put a perfect pass to Irwin who weaved his way through the defence for a fine individual try, not converted, to complete the scoring at 30-7.
Coach Andy Graham was pleased with the result and the performance, especially as his team was missing a number of the regular starting fifteen. Next Saturday sees the resumption of the All Ireland League, with a visit to Eaton Park by Blackrock, one of the big names in Irish Rugby. Andy is looking to build on the success so far achieved but is aware that this is a big task.