BALLYMONEY 21 COLERAINE 22
Ballymoney just missed out in a thrilling and very close fought local derby with Coleraine on Saturday.
Ballymoney shook off their rusty first half and nearly managed to escape with a win, but came up just short.
On a damp afternoon at Kilraughts Road, Coleraine came looking for valuable league points and local bragging rights over the men from Ballymoney.
With more of last season’s regular players available after last week’s scheduling mix-up, this was a much changed side from last week’s disappointment at Clogher Valley. Especially welcome was the return of club captain Alex Houston, making his first appearance for over a year after a long layoff with a back injury.
In the first half, Ballymoney put pressure on Coleraine from the start, spending long periods in the attacking half. But poor choices in attack and some missed tackles kept letting Coleraine off the hook. Two penalties from Cleland were the only reward.
Coleraine’s first try came from a defensive scrum, where their excellent number 8 was allowed to make a 50m break from a straight pickup. The cover tackle from Brace slowed him down, but after a few quick rucks, the ball went wide for the winger to score from a chip through.
Shortly after, Coleraine got their second try, their forwards crashing through the fringes to score under the posts. A third was to come a few minutes later, and the large crowd were beginning to fear a repeat of last week’s scoreline.
Half-time arrived with the score 6-22, and a mountain to climb. Ballymoney coaches Jason Taggart and Neil Beddow had a few stern words to say.
As the second half started, Danny Platt came on for Andy Gardiner in the second row, looking refreshed after his wedding and honeymoon. The pack as a whole suddenly started looking more aggressive at the breakdown, looking after their own ball and making more effective runs at the fringes.
This aggression paid off quickly - a strong run from Chris Beverland made some yards, and the pack drove on around the fringes 3 or 4 times before Matthew Blair got the final touchdown. Cleland’s conversion hit the post.
The pressure kept coming, and after a Cleland penalty took it to 14-22, Coleraine conceded another penalty from a wide position. With their useful open-side flanker in the bin, Houston chose to kick to the corner. A strong driving maul from 10 yards out allowed Jonny Hanna to touch down. Cleland made no mistake with the conversion, 21-22.
With a win in sight, Sam Kyle came on for Blair in the front row, and Ballymoney looked to continue using their forward momentum. Several good chances came up - notably when after good forward play there were numbers on the left wing, only for the last pass to Nigel Nevin to run into touch. Another chance for Nevin, and a chip and chase was well covered by Coleraine’s fullback.
In the dying minutes, another catch and drive was stopped just short. Houston and Hanna went close, but Danny Platt was not able to control the ball as he stretched for the line, and another chance went by.
Thomas Skelton had a last-gasp drop goal attempt drift narrowly wide, and Coleraine were able to hang on for victory.
Ballymoney Coach Jason Taggart said after the match: “We were too soft in the first half, and lacked cohesion with all of the changes in the team - we simply were not clinical enough when we had chances. When we improved in the second half and started to settle down, we started to show some of what we knew we could do. The composure and ball retention allowed us to be more clinical, and the forwards were taking it on and starting to show their class. But in the end we left ourselves too much to do.”
BALLYMONEY II 15 MALONE III 25
After a first half blitz in the opening quarter, Malone came back to win well in the end.
Early tries from Neal Mulholland and Sandy Macauley were not enough in the end as the size and experience of the Malone pack saw them through. The momentum was lost when Ballymoney lost Mulholland to the sin bin and Linton to an ankle injury in short succession.
Next week sees the 1st XV in the first round of the Ulster Junior Cup, as Lisburn come to Kilraughts Road.
* The 2s are away to CIYMS, the 3rds travel to Donaghadee to open their league campaign, and the 4th XV host Ballymena 5s.