MATCH REPORT – COOKE 1ST XV V BALLYCLARE 1ST XV 19/11/16

Ballyclare overcome stubborn Cooke

On the coldest day of the season so far, Ballyclare RFC returned to Ulster Championship 1 action against Cooke at Shaws Bridge. Ballyclare slipped to 15-8 defeat at home to Cooke in their last league meeting in March, the previous season, so were mindful of the threat the Belfast side could be on their day. Come kick-off time, good numbers of travelling support were in attendance to cheer the team on.

Cooke took an early lead, on 5 minutes, with a penalty awarded for Ballyclare being offside at a ruck. 3-0. Soon after Ballyclare showed their intentions with a break by out-half Niall Lawther. Spotting a gap, Lawther took off, bringing play deep into Cooke territory, passing to Craig Smith in support. Smith carried the ball closer to the Cooke line but the final pass didn’t go to hand giving Cooke a scrum and a kick away to relieve the pressure.

On 15min Ballyclare were attacking in the Cooke half. A penalty for a high tackle gave Robbie Reid an opportunity to level the scores. The kick from just outside the Cooke 22, in front of the posts dissected the uprights. 3-3. 5 min later Ballyclare were on Cooke’s 22 again. From a scrum on the left of the field the ball was worked to the right wing and back again before Dave Clarke got the gap to cross the Cooke line for the first try of the afternoon. 3-8.

With Ballyclare attacking in the Cooke half again, a loose pass was intercepted by the Cooke number 12 who sprinted away from the flat Ballyclare backline to score to the right of the posts. The conversion was missed, levelling the score at 8-8. Ballyclare took the lead again with a well worked try just before half-time. Attacking on the left hand side of the pitch a superb miss pass right, which bypassed 3 Cooke defenders, found Ryan Tweed. Tweed progressed towards the line before offloading to the supporting Grant Bartley who scored towards the right touchline. The conversion was just missed, giving Ballyclare a 13-8 lead at half time.

Reid increased Ballyclare’s lead early in the second half with a penalty, 8-16. Cooke brought the score back to within a point with a converted try on 10 minutes in the second period. A combination of fast Cooke movement of the ball through hands and weak Ballyclare defending allowing them in for the score. For most of the remaining time left on the clock Ballyclare looked a shadow of the team that had played so well in Wexford the week previously, perhaps those exploits showing their effects now. The fluency in play witnessed in recent games just wasn’t there. The close score line combined with handling errors and poor decision making in attack and allowing Cooke too much possession of the ball when in defence set up a tense finish.

With 5 min left in the game some sustained pressure inside the Cooke 22 led to a try for replacement hooker Matthew Coulter. A series of pick and goes on the Cooke line were being resisted. Coulter got his hands on the ball and thrust forward, with the suspicion of a double movement, not seen by the referee, got the ball over the Cooke line, just to the left of the posts. With 3 tries in the bag and little time left, Reid drop kicked the conversion. 15-23

Ballyclare went looking for the bonus point score but unfortunately it wasn’t to come. Cooke defended well and forced play into the Ballyclare half and were awarded a penalty right at the end which was kicked to retrieve a losing bonus point. 18-23.

Following a period of some very competitive fixtures and a lot of miles on the clock over the last few weeks Ballyclare have the opportunity to rest, with no match next week. Championship League action returns to the Cloughan for the first time since 24th September, the following week, 3rd December, when Dromore are visitors. All support would be welcome.

Ballyclare 1-15; D Jones, C Smith, A Boyd, W Logan, G Bartley, R Tweed, G Weatherup, J McKinstry, C Morrow, N Lawther, M Kirk, D Clarke, R Reid, S Cusick, J Greer. Replacements; M Coulter, M Robson.

In Lurgan the 4’s continued their fine run defeating the home side 2nd XV 31-12. Ballyclare 3rd XV didn’t play but picked up the points as Ballymoney were unable to field a 3rd XV in opposition. Next week due to Civil Service conceding their Crawford Shield game against the 2nd XV, by withdrawing from the competition, only the 3’s and 4’s have games. The 3’s will travel to Lurgan 2’s in the Forster Shield. The 4’s entertain Dungannon 4’s at home in the Forster Cup. Both teams would appreciate your support.