Ballymoney First XV hosted Grosvenor First XV at the Kilraughts Road for the opening match of their 2015/16 Kukri Qualifying Division 2 campaign and in good playing conditions won by 16 points to 10 points.
After a rather scrappy start, where both teams were trying to assert their authority, the Town were unfortunate to find themselves three points down, when an infringement at a ruck handed Grosvenor an easily converted penalty in front of the posts.
This stirred the Ballymoney men into action and they began to push Grosvenor deep into their own half, but some over-exuberance in potentially good attacking positions led to our lads being penalised, giving Grosvenor undeserved respite. However, the Ballymoney men were quick to even the score following a Strang penalty, after some good rucking by the pack.
The forward encounters at loose play were evenly matched during the first half, with Hanna, Mulholland and Blair working hard in defence and the whole Town packBallymoney gaining an edge in the set pieces.
When the home side backline ran with the ball they looked a threatening and cohesive unit with plenty of pace in all areas, supported by the ever-alert scrumhalf Rhys McAuley. When the Ballymoney backline pressurised their opponents on their twenty-two into fumbling the ball, hooker Chrissie Watson took advantage of the loose ball to kick through and sprint for the touchdown, only to be unceremoniously pulled back by the neck by an overzealous Grosvenor player, who was fortunate not to receive a yellow card. The referee had no hesitation in awarding the home team a penalty try which Strang converted, putting Ballymoney 10-3 ahead at half-time.
From the start of the second half Grosvenor really piled the pressure on Ballymoney and kept the Town busy in their twenty two for a considerable time, but sound and resolute defence kept their Belfast opponents at bay and the lads were rewarded for their hard work when the midfield pairing of McAuley and Clelland eased the pressure by creating a penalty which Strang skilfully kicked to the Grosvenor 10 metre line. From the lineout, a Grosvenor infringement resulted in another penalty which Strang again easily converted putting the men from Ballymoney 13-3 ahead.
Grosvenor were not put off their stride and worked their way back into the game, benefitting from the yellow card which Ballymoney’s Carson received for a minor infringement. The now depleted Ballymoney side gave Grosvenor some added impetus and following a series of aggressive attacks on the Town line their right winger scored a converted try to reduce the advantage to 13-10.
With Carson restored to the Ballymoney pack and the team back to full strength, they rallied together in the dying minutes easing further ahead with another converted Strang penalty from out wide giving the Ballymoney team a 16-10 win and a promising start to their league campaign.
Coach Jimmy Carson commented “It was good to get four points and off to a win, but we still have a few areas to improve on. We gave away too many unnecessary penalties and will be concentrating on managing this aspect of our game in the coming weeks. ”
Captain Peter Irvine commented “Our performance was much more improved this week than last week, everybody lifted their game and worked well for each other. We were nervous at the start and a bit rusty in some areas, but this is a young side with good levels of concentration and enthusiasm.
“We have excellent line speed in the backs and loads of ability which will benefit us during our league campaign. There are a few wee things to touch up on at training this week to get prepped for Saturday’s game. However, it’s good to get off to a winning start to build on from there.”
Team: P.Irvine,D.Watson,J.Blair,N.Mulholland,R.Blair, DMcKeeman, J.Hanna, J.Richmond,R.McAuley,R.Strang,N.Steele, K.McAuley, J.Clelland, S.McCrea, C.McCartney, J.Carson and J. Gilkinson.
The Town 1st XV’s next league match is against Enniskillen at the Kilraughts Road on Saturday 5 September. Kick-off 2.30 pm
A special mention must go to Ballymoney Rugby Club’s Johnny Hanna who made his 400th appearance for the club when he played for the First XV against Grosvenor.