Ballyclare maintain winning run.
Ballyclare recorded back to back five pointers and their fifth straight win in a row to stay in contention for the Kukri Ulster Championship Division 1. Four well taken, converted tries and a couple of penalties by Bobby Smith saw off a spirited Ards side.
The pre-match reception was generously sponsored by Bill McMullan and David McWhirter. Campbell Gordon sponsored the match ball and Clifford Gilmore the Man of the Match award.
Overnight rain had cleared to leave a bright mild day, with a light breeze. Unavailability brought changes to the starting XV again. Willie Rea coming into the front row at tight head prop, Willie Logan partnered Grant Bartley in the second row. Matthew Robson started at blind side with Ryan Tweed moving to wing. In the backs, Gareth Byers started at 15.
Ballyclare kicked off the match, playing into bright winter sunshine. Ards soon had Ballyclare on the back foot, forcing play deep into the Ballyclare half. Ards, as had been reported over the last few weeks, showing phases of enterprising play which belied their league position. Swift attacking rugby with good ball retention gave Ards territorial advantage in the opening 15 min. When Ballyclare were penalised at a ruck inside their own 22m the Ards outhalf kicked the penalty to give them the lead. 0-3
The first of Ballyclare’s tries settled what seemed a nervy start by Ballyclare. With play tight on the right hand touch line, around halfway, Ballyclare retained possession at a ruck. Great vision by Smith at out-half, saw him kick the ball towards the left wing, where there was space to attack. Smith mishit the kick, slicing the ball but still found his intended target, left wing Michael Kirk. Kirk caught the ball inside the Ards half and powered his way into the Ards 22. A change of direction caught out the Ards defence as he crossed the line just to the left of the posts. Smith added the conversion. 7-3
Ards continued to press play and forced Ballyclare into an error soon after. Ballyclare were in possession working out of defence, play close to the touch line on Ballyclare 10m. A mistimed off load by Smith was intercepted by the Ards out-half who ran a straight line and touched down in the left corner. The conversion was missed but left Ards on top at halftime, 7-8.
Robert Smith struck a penalty in the first minutes of the second half, just outside the Ards 22m in front of the posts to restore Ballyclare’s lead, 10-8. Ballyclare started to play better rugby in the second half, replacement hooker Matthew Coulter showed great dynamism in his play and carried the ball well for the home side, making ground at every opportunity. The Ballyclare backline were now playing with the fluency witnessed in recent weeks. From a ruck the ball was spread right at pace, Captain Weatherup received a pass at pace and cut through the Ards defence, Gary offloaded to right wing Ryan Tweed who finished the move well crossing at the corner but cutting round in goal to leave Smith with an easier kick for the conversion. 17-8
The daylight in the score line saw Ballyclare grow in confidence as they began to dominate the game in the Ards half. The forwards were winning clean ball in the scrum and in the loose for the backline to attack. Smith added another penalty to keep the scoreboard ticking in Ballyclare’s favour. 20-8.
With play between the 22 and 10m line in the Ards half, swift accurate passing saw the ball in centre Dave Clarke’s hands. Clarke spotted a gap and cut through the Ards defence changing direction of his run to below the posts. A last ditch tackle attempt by the Ards fullback was bounced off by Clarke and he touched down for Ballyclare’s third try. Smith converted. 27-8
Ards to their credit never gave up and replied with another try of their own. Play was on Ballyclare’s line and Ards got their try through an effective rolling maul. Ballyclare resisted the drive but a couple of resets saw the Ards pack pull 5 points back. 27-13
With the game heading into the last few minutes it looked like Ballyclare were going to have to settle for 4 points. Play, as for most of the second half, was in the Ards half. From a ruck the ball was moved at pace out the backs, Gary Weatherup showing his comfort in the backs as much as the forwards hit the line at pace cutting through the Ards defence with his characteristic snaking run to add the bonus point try. Smith capped another great afternoon with the boot with the conversion and a personal 14 point tally. 34-13
Some great individual performances capped another bonus point win for the Cloughan men. The forwards dealt with early fire from the Ards pack, with Bartley, Logan and Rainey carrying the ball well for Ballyclare. Props Neil Kirk and Willie Rea held the Ballyclare scrum firmly. Strong running and great defensive tacking of Stuart Cusick and Dave Clarke in the centre along with the orchestration and boot of Robert Smith saw Ballyclare comfortable winners in the end. Special mention to replacement hooker Matthew Coulter who was given the nod as man of the match for his all-round performance. Effective with ball in hand and accurate line out throwing.
Next for Ballyclare is back to back games against the leagues fourth spot team, Portadown. Ballyclare were edged out 23-15 by the Chambers Park side in early October. A 2nd round Towns Cup tie will be played in Portadown next week with a league fixture return at the Cloughan on 11th Feb.
Ballyclare 1-15; N Kirk, C Smith, W Rea, G Bartley, W Logan, M Robson, G Weatherup, J McKinstry, T Holland, R Smith, M Kirk, S Cusick, D Clarke, R Tweed, G Byers
Replacements; M Rainey, M Coulter.
Also playing at the Cloughan the 2nd XV lost out to their visitors Omagh 2’s, 17-27 whilst the 4th XV defeated Ballynahinch 6’s.
The RBS Six Nations starts next week with all Ireland fixtures and matches played on Saturdays being shown on the big screen at the Cloughan. The Club will not open for the Sunday matches in this seasons competition.