Ballyclare lose out in sunshine at Shaws Bridge.
Ballyclare RFC commenced their Kukri Ulster Championship League 1 campaign, away to last season’s league runners up Instonians. A firm pitch and bright warm sunshine left both teams tiring towards the end of the season opener. Ballyclare took to the field with a strong team, containing several of their new signings in Robbie Reid, Craig Smith, Grant Bartley and the welcome returns to a Ballyclare shirt by Rory Henderson and Kirk Johnston.
Instonians started the game brightly and within the first five minutes, the Instonians full back cut through the Ballyclare defence and required a last ditch, into touch, try saving tackle by Ballyclare full back, Robert Smith. Smith was injured in the tackle and had to leave the field for hospital assessment. Smith damaged his AC Joint and will be out of action for a period, all at the club wish him a speedy recovery. Another new Ballyclare player Jonny Holmes joined the action from the bench. Ballyclare were penalised for infringement at the breakdown, Instonians kicked to the corner. From the line out, Instonians worked the ball at the tail and rumbled towards the line, Ballyclare contained that threat but when Instonians spread the ball out their backs they managed to touch down just to the right of the posts. With the conversion added, Instonians were 7-0 up.
Ballyclare, whilst running the ball out of defence were penalised for crossing, Instonians stroked over the resulting penalty on 15min, to go 10-0 up. Five minutes later, Ballyclare were again penalised at the breakdown, the referee showing Ballyclare flanker Paul Robinson a yellow card. Ballyclare down to 14 men and continuing to defend in their own half as Instonians looked to increase their lead.
Robinson had just returned to the field when Dave Clarke saw yellow for an illegal tackle leaving Ballyclare to continue with 14 men for another 10 minutes.
Ballyclare were conceding too many penalties, from about 25 metres out, Instonians elected to kick one to the corner, for possession and to mount another attack on the Clare line. From the resulting line out, Instonians mauled the ball to the line and managed to touch down just to the left of the posts. With the straightforward conversion added, Instonians were now 17-0 up with only 25 minutes gone in the first half. Ballyclare defended and cleared a couple more attacks to see the game out to half time, with no further score.
Ballyclare started to play better in the second half, however some handling errors and ineffectiveness at the ruck saw Instonians remain in control. As the half progressed, Ballyclare increasingly came into the game, looking the fitter side as the game continued in the wilting heat.
Ballyclare’s backs were now looking dangerous and making good inroads to Instonians territory. Unfortunately as the clock ticked down it looked increasingly likely that time was running out.
A superb individual try by Niall Lawther, where he still had the pace to weave through the Instonians defence and touch down in the corner, was the last play of the game. As the conversion just missed, the final whistle sounded, confirming Ballyclare’s defeat 17-5.
A difficult first game of the season, on a hot day. A performance to build on for Ballyclare, with work to be done on in the lineout and rucks. Paul Robinson and Captain Gary Weatherup worked tirelessly in the forwards, with Lawther, Reid and Butler showing well in the backs.
League action returns to the Cloughan next week, when Omagh are the visitors. A large crowd is expected as Ballyclare look to bounce back from the opening day defeat.
Ballyclare 1st XV 1-15; R Henderson, C Smith, A Boyd, R Boyd, G Bartley, P Robinson, G Weatherup, K Johnston, T McGookin, R Reid, N Lawther, D Clarke, S Cusick, A Butler, R Smith.
Replacements: W Rea, J Holmes