Ballymena v Shannon
After a run of three consecutive defeats, Ballymena were anxious to get back to winning ways as they entertained Limerick side Shannon in the 15th game of theAll Ireland league . The plan was almost derailed in the first minute when Ballymena failed to deal properly with the kickoff and surrendered possession to their opponents. After a number of phases Shannon seemed to be on the brink of scoring, but their scrum-half knocked on at the base of the ruck and Ballymena were able to clear the danger. But shortly after they seemed to be back on track, being the first to score through a McMaster penalty after the Shannon scrum was driven backwards, not for the last time in the game.
Ballymena soon built up a ten point lead through a McBurney try, created by a great run from Jonny Rosborough who ran from his own ten metre line to within striking distance of the Shannon line. When he was brought to ground the ball was quickly recycled and moved right to McBurney who came into the line at pace and scored the first of his two tries. McMaster converted for a 10-0 lead, which on the balance of play Ballymena just about deserved but Shannon continued to play some enterprising rugby and their efforts were rewarded with a penalty which out half Bennett comfortably slotted over. Ballymena were putting together some great phase play and when Shannon strayed off side and gave away the penalty McMaster found a good touch fifteen metres out. The throw from Taggart was right on the money, Whann’s catch was perfect and the pack did what what they have done so many times his season and drove their opposite numbers over the line for a try wide out on the left. There was no further scoring before half time, so the sides changed ends with Ballymena enjoying a 15-3 lead.
Five minutes into the second half Shannon were awarded a penalty for offside and out half Bennett was once again on the mark to reduce the lead to 15-6. Ballymena then enjoyed a spell of fast paced rugby, going through the phases, but Shannon defended well and the only dividend that the home side reaped from this period of dominance was a McGrath penalty to open a twelve point gap at 18-6. Almost immediately Shannon out half Bennett was on target again, and he then stepped up to convert a truly marvellous try from his full back Fitzgerald who fielded a loose kick from Ballymena well inside his own half, sliced through the defence at pace and rounded the cover to score far out on the left. That cut into the home side’s lead making the score 18-16, and caused a few flutters of nervousness among the support. But once again it was Rodger McBurney who calmed the nerves, taking an inside ball from Andrew Ferguson to cut through the Shannon line, sidestep the cover and score just to the right of the post, McGrath converting to put Ballymena nine points and two scores in the lead at 25-16.
With a nine point lead and only ten minutes left to play, Ballymena looked fairly comfortable but Shannon continued to attack and some determined running and mauling close to the line let back row forward Cusack in for a close range try just to the right of the posts. Bennett’s kicking had been sound all day, so he wasn’t going to miss this conversion, and the Ballymena lead didn’t look as secure as it had done minutes earlier. However, they regained control of the ball from the kick off and were awarded a penalty just inside their own half. A superb kick from McGrath found touch right on the Shannon five metre line and once again the Ballymena rolling maul machine geared itself for action and went through its well practised routine, with Willie McKay getting the inevitable touchdown for a bonus point try. McGrath’s conversion from the touchline failed, but it didn’t matter, as the whistle went to signal the end of an exciting, tense encounter.
This five point victory hasn’t changed the league table, with St Mary’s and Trinity both winning, but Ballymena are still well on course for a play off for the second placed spot in Division 1B. Next game is away on Saturday to Trinity College, for what promises to be another tense game.