Ballyclare edged out in tough battle against Inst.
Following on from an excellent win in Omagh last week, Ballyclare returned to the Cloughan for their penultimate league fixture of the season against fellow title contenders Instonians.
The day’s match was sponsored by valued regular sponsor Johnny Black of Reid Black Solicitors. His continued support is much appreciated. Billy Johnston sponsored the match ball and Robin Byers the man of the match award. Persistent rain overnight and on the morning of the game left the playing surface going heavy, but as it was the same for both sides it didn’t have too much bearing on the game. By kick off overhead conditions were dry and it was a mild afternoon. With Robert Smith and Craig Smith on holidays, the experienced Gary Clotworthy was selected to start at full back and Ross Johnston given the nod as a replacement.
Ballyclare kicked the match off in front of a sizeable crowd and throughout the first quarter of the game had Instonians under pressure. Ballyclare’s lineout continued to function well stealing a couple of balls on the Instonians throw. Instonians almost had a score after 15 minutes when a kick through was dived at by their winger but a kick clear by Michael Kirk gave Ballyclare the 5m scrum put in and a chance to clear. Ballyclare worked the ball deep into Instonians territory and showing good patience in the build-up went through several phases, retaining possession. Matthew Coulter set up a the final ruck close to the line with Paul Robinson getting his hands on the ball and drive over for a try in the right hand corner. Robbie Reid was unable to curl in the resulting conversion as the ball just missed on the outside of the right upright. Instonians mounted a challenge inside the Ballyclare 22m soon after and were awarded a series of penalties which they elected to kick to the left hand corner for the 5m lineout. Ballyclare defended well but lost Captain Weatherup to a yellow card for dropping a maul. Approaching halftime Ballyclare were again deep inside Instonians territory and when Inst were penalised at the breakdown just to the left of the posts on their 22m, Ballyclare had the opportunity to extent their lead with a kick at goal. Unfortunately Reid pushed his kick just wide. The half time whistle sounded giving Ballyclare a narrow, but deserved lead. 5-0.
Instonians started the second half brightly but Ballyclare weathered the early storm and regained control when the Instonians front row failed to channel the ball at a scrum and turned the ball over. Play moved frantically from end to end through the second period. Inst converted a penalty just after the hour mark to pull back to 5-3. Ballyclare laid siege on the Instonians line for 5 minutes but were unable to break through a resilient defence. From a penalty inside their own half Instonians kicked to touch and regained possession from the lineout on the Ballyclare 22m. Inst progressed up the centre of the pitch and recycled a couple of times before moving the ball left catching out a tiring Ballyclare defence to get a try in the left corner with around 5 minutes left on the clock. The conversion was missed but Inst now had an 8-5 lead. Ballyclare tried valiantly in the dying minutes to get into position for another score but time ran out and Instonians celebrated the narrow win. Just before the final whistle blew at the Cloughan, news had come that Omagh had scored with their last play against Cooke to win and now have only to win their final game of the season to lift the title.
Several players were in contention for the man of the match award, Matthew Coulter and Grant Bartley showing well in the forwards and Tommy Holland having another great game at scrumhalf. The man of the match however went to Paul Robinson for his all round play throughout the game.
Ballyclare see out their league programme next week at home to Cooke and it’s hoped a large crowd will again assemble to support the team in what has been an excellent season.
Ballyclare 1-15; Dean Jones, Matthew Coulter, Al Boyd, Robert Boyd, Grant Bartley, Paul Robinson, Gary Weatherup, Ryan Tweed, Tommy Holland, Niall Lawther, Michael Kirk, Dave Clarke, Robbie Reid, Stewart Cusick, Gary Clotworthy.
Replacements; Willy Logan and Ross Johnston.
In Ballymena the 2nd XV progressed to the final of the Crawford Plate overcoming the home 3rd XV, 27-21. Ballyclare had built up a good lead at half time with 2 tries from 5m lineout catch and drives by Ross Scott as well as a Jonny Reid score which was converted by Gareth Byers. Byers also converted Callum Wilson’s try to give Ballyclare a 24-7 halftime advantage.
Ballymena pulled back to 24-21 but a penalty by Byers kept the 2’s in front and progress to the final, winning 27-21. The 3rd XV game against Lisburn 3’s was cancelled as Lisburn could not field a team.
Fixtures 18 March 2017
1st XV v Cooke
2nd XV v Ballynahinch 3
3rd XV v Ballymoney 3
Ballynahinch 6 v 4th XV