28 April 2018

Ulster Carpets Cup Final

Ballymena 31 – Virginia 22

Saturday 28thApril saw a Ballymena under 14 side travel to the Kingspan Stadium to face Cavan side Virginia in the Ulster Cup final.  This is the first time that the U14s had got this far in the most prestigious youth competition.  The Ballymena team had qualified for the cup after winning their regional league and then beating Armagh, Monaghan and Ballynahinch along the way in the cup run.

Ballymena had been given the home changing room which made the pre-match  preparation very special.  After warm ups were done the boys returned to the changing rooms for some last-minute words from their coaches and then to the tunnel, standing shoulder to shoulder next to their Virginia counterparts waiting for the referee to lead them on to the pitch.

The Ballymena boys had been unbeaten all year, as had Virginia, both sides having had fantastic seasons and it was 2 talented and organised sides who graced the pitch in the cup final.

The sun continued to shine as the whistle blew to start the game and the warm and firm conditions suited Ballymena’s open approach to the game, as the Braidmen moved the ball wide to exploit their quick backs on a large pitch.  Virgina, in contrast, had a big physical pack and took the Braidmen on in an upfront battle.

The clash of styles made for an entertaining game which celebrated a high standard of rugby, a credit to both teams and clubs.   It was Ballymena who got the upper hand in the early stages of the game with speedy full back Jack Gaston finding himself in a bit of space around the halfway line and he outpaced the chasing defence to put Ballymena 5-0 up after 3 minutes of the start; the try was converted and the score stood at 7-0.

The next 15 minutes of the game were hard fought, Virginia pushing forward through their big pack with the Ballymena forwards defending very well and pushing back themselves. The tight 5 of Milo, Jamie Witherspoon, Jonno Wylie, Jack Addison and James Sterling all put in brave performances.  Ball was well earned as was territory on the pitch but the boys from the Braid began to settle into their game plan with Michael Read and Joe O’Rawe at 9 and 10 starting to organise the breakdown and run the game with some well-rehearsed backs moves switching the play around the park seeking out gaps in the Virginia backline.

It was outside centre Sam Sempy, who was outstanding all day causing and a real thorn in the Virginia side, who scored next after a powerful run through the middle of the park on 17 minutes. 

And with the Ballymena forwards holding their own up front against a bigger pack a platform was set for the half backs to manoeuvre the ball around the pitch to find the space on a large pitch.  The lead was extended 5 minutes later as outstanding winger Callum Mitchel crossed the line for a try which was converted to put the score at 19-0. 

Virginia showed why they have been unbeaten all year and came back with big carries by their forwards eventually earning them a deserved try of their own at the stroke of half time and the teams went into the interval with the score at 19-5.

After half time Virginia came out strongly, again using their big forwards to plough up the park, and they scored a try 2 minutes after the restart.  The score now stood at 19-10 with Virginia in the ascendancy and pushing for a further score. But Ballymena rallied and began slowly to pull back possession and territory, and the game began to swing back in their favour.

The large pitch at the Kingspan began to take its toll in the second half with both teams making a number of substitutions as boys got tired. Ballymena’s open style of rugby again began to prevail with more space on the pitch and tired legs and their passing game exploited this space and Callum Mitchel scored his second try on 11 minutes and Sam Sempy on 15 minutes after the break.

The score was now 31-15 and with 20 minutes to go it looked like it was Ballymena’s game, but Virginia refused to be lie down and came back with another try of their own to bring the score to 31-20.  The conversion would have brought Virginia to within a score of drawing level, the ball narrowly missed going between the posts and the Ballymena support began to breathe a little easier.

A last few minutes saw a determined Virginia side held by an equally stubborn Ballymena side who punched the air as the final whistle blew.

Ballymena, Ireland and Lions legend Syd Millar had been kind enough to speak with the players through the week and left them with some motivational words and asked them to enjoy their day, and the boys did just that as Captain Jack French led his team up the steps at the Kingspan to receive the cup and saluted the noisy army of friends, family and supporters who had come to cheer them on. 

All in all a fantastic day for Ballymena Youth Rugby and a proud day for the Club who will have their name etched on the trophy for the first, but hopefully not the last time. All our boys had a great day out, Ulster Rugby and Ballymena RFC made them feel very special.  The under 14 players can be proud of their achievement and will treasure the memory of Saturday, boys from Cullybacky, Dunclug, St Killians and St Louis schools will all go in to school on Monday morning walking a little taller.

 

 

 

14 April 2018

Ulster Carpets Cup Semi Final

Ballymena 29 – Ballynahinch 12

It was another Saturday of thrilling rugby at Eaton Park yesterday for the under 14s in the Ulster Carpets Cup semi-final against Ballynahinch last week.

Hinch had already been to the league play-off final and were keen to secure their second final of the season when they travelled to Ballymena with a strong squad.

But from the kick-off it was the home team dominated possession in the early stages of the game, with Hinch showed why their season had been so successful as they tackled ferociously and organised their defence well.  It took a determined effort by the home team to breach the Hinch defence, and it was flanker Mark McSparren who scored the first try on 11 minutes to put the Braidmen ahead finishing off well after the ball had been moved around the park pulling the Hinch defence out of shape.

After the first try the home team kept up the pressure and ran through a number of phases of play in the Hinch 22; repeated foul play at the breakdown led to the award of a penalty try and then good handling across the back line and a well worked blind side move saw winger Callum Mitchel cross the line on 21 minutes for try number 3.

To their credit Hinch did not give up and marched up the pitch from the restart and only a try saving tackle from the industrious full back Jack Gaston prevented a Hinch score on the stroke of half time as he wrapped up the Hinch player causing the ball to be spilled over the line.

Score 19-0 at half time.

The second half got off to a flying start when Mitchel scored a well taken second try in the corner after 3 minutes of the restart. But Hinch were not going to give up easily and they came back strongly to dominate possession and territory and scored 2 tries in a 10 minute period where the Braidmen lost a bit of shape and could not get their hands on the ball.  It looked like the momentum of the game was swinging a little towards the visitors but Ballymena regained their composure and Timmy Carson, playing as a makeshift number 6 scored an important 5thtry in the last few of minutes of the game to settle the home side’s nerves.

The win is a fantastic achievement for the club and the youth section, it is the first time and under 14 side has progressed through to the cup final. The team will now look forward to playing at the Kingspan Stadium against Virginia on 28thApril to see who will be crowned Ulster Cup winners.

 

31 March 2018

Ulster Carpets Cup Quarter Final

Ballymena 52 – 12 Monaghan

An exciting day’s rugby on Easter Saturday saw the under 14s progress to the Ulster Carpets Cup semi finals.  The sun shone on Eaton Park as the Ballymena team took to the field against the travelling Monaghan team.

The game started with Ballymena chasing their kick off into the Monaghan half and they dominated territory for the first few minutes.  The boys looked a little nervous and there were a few minor handing errors, but importantly they kept trying to play good expansive rugby and spread the ball through the centre and the wing to find the space out wide.

It was from this space that full back Jack Gaston scored the first try and wing Callum Mitchel the second before outside centre Sam Sempy crossed the line making the score 19-0 to the home side.  Monaghan came back in to the game through a try following a well worked line out at the stroke of half time bring the score to 19-5.

But after the break Ballymena pressed their dominance and Jack Gaston scored 2 more tries for his hat trick and Sam Sempy scored a second half hatrick to take his total to 4 for the game.

The under 14s now join Ballymena under 18s in the semi final of the cup and the dream of playing at the Kingspan Stadium continues.

 

24 March 2018

Ballymena  36 –  12 Armagh

A sunny day at Eaton Park saw the under 14s progress to the quarter finals of the cup seeing off a very strong Armagh team. The 14s were behind early in the game and had to fight back strongly in the second half to keep their hopes of an appearance at Kingspan alive. However the second half saw the 14s begin to dominate proving too strong for Armagh much to the delight of coaches and supporters.

17 March 2018

It was great to welcome back some old friends from Cambridge House Grammar School on St Patrick’s Day.  The boys enjoyed playing against their former Ballymena Mini team mates in a keenly contested game played in a great spirit.

17 February 2018

Fabulous 14s Finish Top of the Table

It has been a fantastic season so far for the Ballymena RFC youth teams.  Last weekend saw the conclusion of the Ulster Carpets North League with the Under 18s and Under 14s topping their tables, and the Under 16s finishing runners up.

The Under 14s secured a win away at title rivals Rainey Old Boys on Saturday to ensure that the team went through the season unbeaten, winning all 16 of their matches.

Ballymena always looked in control of a keenly fought game.  Early scores from centre Sam Sempy and full back Jack Gaston put the visitors in front as the Braid Boys dominated an opposition who had only lost 2 games all season.  Despite Rainey’s best efforts by half time the game was won, with Sam Sempy scoring 4 tries and fellow centre Aidy McSparren also crossing the whitewash.

Despite the scoreline Rainey kept battling and contested fiercely at the breakdown, but Ballymena continued to spread the ball wide, taking advantage of their pacey backline which the home team did not have an answer to.

Rainey came out fighting after the break, but again Sempy scored to take his personal tally to 5 in the game.  The home team pulled a converted try back but further scores from Jack French, Jack Gaston and Ryan McCartney emphasized Ballymena’s domination before Sempy scored again to complete his double hat trick.

All youth teams now progress into the play offs next weekend hoping to compete for silverware.

 

10 February 2018

Letterkenny 0 : 48 Ballymena

Ballymena consolidated their position at the top of the Ulster Carpets table on Saturday when they beat a strong Letterkenny side.

Ballymena started strongly on a heavy pitch at Letterkenny when winger Jack Gaston fielded a clearance kick to the left wing, looked up and spotted space in the far corner and outpaced the defence to cross the line.

Letterkenny were ferocious at the breakdown and the Ballymena forwards struggled to secure clean ballin the first half, but when the visitors did get possession up front scrum half Connor McQuillan fed the backs who defied the heavy conditions to put on a display of dexterous, running rugby, and it was from one of their moves that centre Sam Sempy crossed the line for try number two.

The rest of the first half was an arm wrestle as each forward pack scrambled for advantage but it was Ballymena who dominated territory and Callum Mitchel capitalised on another excellent backs move with a try in the corner just before the half time whistle.

At the start of the second half Letterkenny pushed into Ballymena territory but the away team’s line rarely looked troubled as Ballymena began to gain dominance through their tight 5 who worked tirelessly.  The forward’s hard toil gave the backs a great platform to release attack after attack, which Letterkenny did well to defend against, but ultimately the dominance was rewarded by tries from centre Aiden McSparren, another for Sam Sempy and two for winger Jack Gaston sealed the victory.

 

13 January 2018

Ballymena 76 : 0 Inishowen

A remarkable winning run continued for Ballymena U14s as they scored 76 points, including 12 tries, against an Inishowen side who showed fighting spirit but were outplayed at Eaton Park on Saturday.

It was a cold, wet and windy day at Eaton Park as the teams took to the field and there were, unsurprisingly, a number of handling errors but the home team stuck to their expansive game plan and tried to work the ball wide into the backs whenever possible to exploit the pace and power of Addy McSparren and Sam Sempy in the centre and Jack Gaston at full back – all of whom left their mark on the scoresheet.

But the victory was built on forward domination, the Ballymena pack were first to the breakdown on most occasions, securing the ball and forcing turnover – and this was the platform which prevented Inishowen gaining any foothold in the game or forward momentum; and put Ballymena on the front foot.

Ballymena raced into the lead with tries from full back Jack Gaston and prop Daire Mort crossing the whitewash, and 4 more tries followed before half time to leave the score at 38:0.

In the second half Ballymena’s big ball carriers Ishmael Mohammed, Jack French and Stuart Gordon constantly punched holes in the Inishowen defensive line putting the visiting side on the back foot and allowing the backs to take advantage of the resulting space.

Inishowen showed plenty of pace and fight, but their determination was not a match for the organisation and power of the home team who showed little compassion for the visitors as the scoreboard kept ticking over and a further 6 tries and 38 points were scored before the final whistle.

 

6 January 2018

City of Derry 7 : Ballymena 49

Ballymena under 14s pulled 3 points clear of nearest rivals Rainey in the Ulster Carpets league North on Saturday with a win away at mid table City of Derry.

Ballymena were missing a number of key players but the squad proved its strength and depth as Ballymena took control of the game early on and maintained their domination throughout the first half, which saw 6 tries scored by the visitors – a hat-trick each for the prolific Jack Gaston and Sam Sempy.

City of Derry looked down and out at half time but showed a lot of character in the second half as they came out and battled hard for pride and started to gain ground and win much of the breakdown and they took the game to Ballymena.

It was Ballymena who scored first though through a powerful run by centre Aidan McSparren.  City of Derry were not to be deterred and their forward domination and pressure on the Ballymena line lead to a deserved try to City of Derry, a just reward for their battling qualities. 

Ballymena then pushed back and scored next though Kevin McCann after the ball had passed through a number of hands in the back leaving him with an overlap and clear run in.

Scrum half Conor McQuillan concluded the scoring for Ballymena with a well taken try as he spotted a gap on the blind side at the back of a ruck and scampered in to the corner despite the attentions of the City of Derry Defence.

But it was City of Derry who finished the stronger and were camped inside the Ballymena 22 for the final 5 minutes and only stout defence and a last second turnover on his own line by Ryan Thom prevented the home team scoring a late second try.

 

30 December 2017

‘Snow problem for Ballymena U14s

Ballymena U14s kept up their perfect record with a home win against third in the table Limavady on Saturday to return top of the Ulster Carpets North Table. 

There was snow on the ground and a chill in the air when the game kicked off but both teams soon warmed up with a first 10 minutes which was keenly contested and was scoreless as both teams weighed each other up.

The deadlock was broken with a fine run from the halfway line by flying full back Jack Gaston who skipped through the defensive line and stepped nimbly around the full back to score under the posts.  The away side immediately gained field position when a dropped ball from the restart allowed them a scrum and then a penalty inside the Ballymena 22 as the away team applied pressure.

But Gaston soon followed up with a second try after the home team worked the ball from their own 10 metre line through a few phases of play up the pitch to score in the corner following big carries from forwards Jamie Witherspoon, Jack French, Daire Mort and Stuart Gordon.

Ballymena started to dominate the game and a scrum from just inside their own half was quickly distributed to centre Sam Sempy who muscled his way up to the 10 metre line before offloading to the supporting scrum half Michael Read who stepped inside to make space for a further offload to number 8 Ryan McCartney who scored in the left-hand corner to give the home side a comfortable lead.

Read continued to look for opportunities and scored the next try after seeing a hole in the Limavady back line at the back of a ruck and he darted in from the 22 wrong footing the full back on the way.

This put the home side 24:0 up at half time.

The second half followed a similar pattern with Ballymena dominating possession and running set moves but Limavady put up strong opposition, and refused to give in to the home side, scrapping for every ball, and making the home side work hard for territory.

It took 5 minutes of the second half for Richard McCann to finish off a fine move that saw the Ballymena forwards win a ruck on the opposition 22 before the backs put the ball through their hands allowing McCann a clean run in to score in the corner for try number 5.

Ballymena were now back on top of the game and Sam Sempy ran home a brace of tries which saw him use all his strength and pace to punch holes in the opposition back line. 

The Ballymena forwards continued to work hard with Kevin O’Boyle, Ryan Thom, Ryan McCartney and Mark McSparren getting around the pitch effectively and Troy Gillen making a couple of strong carries. 

But the final defining moment of the game was produced by Mark McSparren who made a jinking run from the Limavady 22 towards the try line and he seemed certain to cross before being stopped in his tracks by an excellent defensive cover tackle; but brother Aiden was on hand to pick up the ball and cross the line for the final score of the game.

Ballymena are now back to being joint top of the table having played 9 and won 9 of their league games.

 

16 December 2017

Winning Streak Continues for Under 14s

Ballymena under 14s made it a perfect 8 wins out of 8 as they head into the Christmas period with a 57:0 win over a developing Coleraine side last Saturday.

The game looked in little doubt from the first whistle when the kick off was caught by Sam Sempy must have thought Christmas had come early as he was allowed to run the length of the pitch to score the opening try in the first few seconds of the game.  This opening score set the tone for the first half and was quickly followed by tries from Jack Gaston and Jack French as the visitors dominated possession and territory leaving Coleraine with little opportunity to get a foothold in the game.

Ballymena endeavoured to play running rugby and continually pushed the ball wide to exploit the pace of their back line and more tries from Sempy, Gaston and McCartney pushed home the advantage as Ballymena proved too strong and well drilled against an inexperienced Coleraine side; and the teams went into the half time break with the score at 38:0.

After the break Coleraine came into the game more and limited the damage to a further 19 second half points to the visitors but Ballymena were always in charge and came away worthy victors.  The Ballymena side now sit joint top of the Ulster Carpets North Table with Rainey Old Boys.

 

2 December 2017 

Ballymena 35 : 0 Letterkenny

This Saturday was a good test of rugby at Eaton Park for the so far undefeated home side as they came up against strong visiting team who had only lost once this season.

Ballymena started well after receiving the kick-off and marched the away side up the field into their own half with strong running and good phase play.  The home side played the ball through the backs and with a couple more offloads would have taken the lead well before the away defence got drawn in and committed allowing wing Callum Mitchel an easy run in for try number 1.

Ballymena’s domination of the game continued, but Letterkenny did not surrender easily and the home team had to work hard for the ball in contact before the pacey Jack Gaston crossed the line for try number 2.

Ballymena constantly broke the Letterkenny defensive line and backs Richard McCann, Sam Sempy and Jack Gaston all got tackled just short of the try line as the home team failed to capitalise on their advantage; but a good supporting line and strong run from centre Addy McSparren nudged the score up to 15-0 with only a couple of minutes left to half time.

The game restarted and the ball was caught, secured and run through the hands of the home side as they raced up the pitch towards the Letterkenny 22 before strong tackling halted the advance, however a quick ruck released the back line again for centre Sam Sempy to score the first of a brace of tries.

The second half was a stop start affair with Ballymena constantly penalised around the ruck which disturbed their rhythm and gave away easy possession to the visitors who became more involved in the game.  But Letterkenny never looked likely to trouble the scoreboard and a superb individual try from Mark McSparren got the first points of the second half.  The home team continued to make handling errors in an attempt to play the ball wide and the game became fractured but good pressure in the Letterkenny 22 from scrum half Michael Read who stole a loose ball from behind Letterkenny lines set up a close range try for the hard-working Ryan McCartney.

This was no more than the home side deserved and a last minute try from Sam Sempy who ran in from his own half secured a 7 try 35:0 win.  Overall an entertaining game from two well organised and talented sides who tried to play open running rugby.

 

11 November 2017

Ballymena U14s 50 Finn Valley U14s 10

A good team performance from the home team saw them win comfortably against a young and developing Finn Valley side at Eaton Park on Saturday.

Ballymena fielded a young team eager to make their mark and immediately raced to a 7 point lead straight from the kick off when Timmy Carson’s strong run was too much for the Finn Valley defence.

More tries followed with a break from fly half Joseph O’Rawe, full back Jack Gaston, centre Addy McSparren and wing Shay Goodland before centre Michael Read came off the bench to cross the line and give the home team a 45:0 lead at half time.

The second half was an opportunity for the home team to give all of the bench a run out who made the most of the opportunity and a line break and strong carry by replacement front row Ismael Mohammed, followed by a deft offload any number 10 would be pleased with, to the supporting back row Mark McSparren gave Ballymena another try.

Finn Valley looked a little down but they produced spirited come back and pushed back at the home team, with a tenacious run from their own half splitting the Ballymena defence gave them their first try and another followed soon after with a forwards’ carry and offload to the waiting winger.

This makes it 6 wins out of 6 for the Ballymena side in the Ulster Carpets U14 League North and they remain top of the table.  Well done boys it was great to see some of you who don’t always get the opportunity to start make a big impression and great to see all those who did not start be so supportive, this makes for great team spirit.

There is still lots to work on, the rucking position was still too high and our organisation was lacking at times – but the winning habit continues and you are giving your best for the team.

 

3 November 2017

Fabulous 14s Five in a Row

Ballymena U14s secured another win on Saturday away to Ballymoney to make it 5 wins out of 5 in the Ulster Carpets North League.

The visitors proved too strong for a spirited home team who were not able to halt wave after wave of Ballymena attack. 

Addy McSparren started the scoring in the first few minutes of the game as Ballymena received the kick off and moved through phases pf play up the field.

Ballymoney competed well for the ball at the breakdown but hard work from Ballymena forwards Jack Addison and Craig Houston provided a platform for half backs Conor McQuillan and Michael Read to release a series of attacks from the backs, with Jack Gaston and Callum Mitchel going over the whitewash after the ball was thrown wide.  Another try from Addy McSparren took the score to 26 before Ryan McCartney crossed the line, taking an opportunity to pick and go from a ruck close to the opposition line.  Ballymoney battled back but strong defensive work from the Ballymena team and good tackling from Richard McCann, Kevin O’Boyle prevented the home team making any ground and Jack Gaston pressed home the advantage adding another try before the half time whistle to make the score 36:0.

The second half saw much more structured and controlled rugby from Ballymena who dominated the game.  Strong running from Jamie Weatherspoon, Dara Mort and Jack French helped Ballymena to maintain field position and another two tries each from the rampant Jack Gaston and Addy McSparren kept the scoreboard ticking over.

Final score Ballymoney 0, Ballymena 38 and overall another strong performance from the Ballymena team who are showing great promise this season.

 

14 October 2017

Ballymena 85 : 0 City of Derry

Ballymena U14s continued their winning start to the season with an emphatic victory over City of Derry at Eaton Park.

After three early tries from the impressive McSparren, French and Sempy the side never looked troubled by a depleted City of Derry team. City of Derry competed ferociously at the breakdown, but open play was dominated by strong running and quick hands from the Ballymena side who tried to work the ball to the centre and wings when they could; and this was the source of most of their tries. Hard work from the back row helped secure the ball and hard running from the tight 5 built a platform for the home side to launch attack after attack, and as the first half continued so did the tries with French, McCartney and the outstanding Sempy crossing the whitewash to help the home team go into the break 49 points to 0 ahead.

The home team emptied their bench at the start of the second half and the run of tries continued with elusive running from Gaston (2) and Mitchel who also joined in the scoring.  Strong defensive work and tackling meant that the little possession that City of Derry had was short lived and further tries from French and Sempy, who bagged a total of 4 each, finished off an emphatic victory.

The team have now won 3 from 3 in the Ulster Carpets Northern Division.