Ballymoney RFC U18 hosted Ards RFC U18 at the Kilraughts Road on Saturday and in excellent playing conditions showed a real strength of character to win by 13-10.
Ards came to the Kilraughts Road unbeaten in 25 league games but the Town U18s were in a determined mood to ensure that their own unbeaten home record would remain intact, and this created a really thrilling encounter.
As usual, the Town found themselves 5 points behind after just three minutes. From the Ards kick-off the visitors won the ball on the Ballymoney twenty-two line and from the ensuing maul they ran on the blindside and with a two man overlap easily breached the home defence to score an unconverted try.
The Town responded immediately and began to pin Ards back in their own half, with excellent running lines by Brown and Kane causing the visitors problems, and only resolute defence, some of which was on the edge of legality, prevented the Town from scoring. This was to prove fateful for Ards when they were penalised at a ruck, enabling Pattison to convert the resulting penalty to reduce the score to 5-3.
Immediately from the re-start ,Ballymoney went on the attack with some great surges by the forwards, supplying the backline with good clean ball orchestrated by the halfbacks Bell and Young. Two minutes before halftime, Ards were again penalised for diving over in a ruck. From the tap penalty Campbell drove to the line and presented good ball to the supporting McConaghy who crashed over to score an excellent unconverted try, leaving the halftime score at 8-5 to Ballymoney.
The Ballymoney lads, with their tails up, began the second half strongly and began to increase the pace of the game, enabling the ball to be passed swiftly by the backline, pressurising the Ards defence into making mistakes and an inevitable yellow-card for a very high tackle on winger Neill.
Ten minutes later, a long kick by Young pinned Ards back into their twenty two. An infringement by the visitors at the resulting lineout handed the Ballymoney lads a penalty. This gave the forwards an opportunity to batter the Ards line with strong charges by Parkhill, Johnston, McIlwrath and Campbell. Persistence paid off when Captain Graham found a weakness in the Ards defence and touched down on the line to score an excellent unconverted forwards’ try to extend the Town’s lead to 13-5.
Several further scoring opportunities arose as the home side attempted to kill the game but over-exuberance and lack of vision meant these went astray.
The game then see-sawed between the twenty-two lines with Ballymoney attempting to add to their score and Ards counter-attacking on the break, but excellent defence by both teams minimised the number of scoring opportunities.
With ten minutes remaining the Town defence dug deep to protect their line, and excellent tackles and hold-ups prevented the powerful Ards forwards from scoring. However, five minutes from time the pressure from the visitors eventually allowed them to create an overlap to score an unconverted try.
In the last few minutes Ards threw everything at the Town with incessant driving mauls by their forwards, and in the dying seconds and final period of play, Ards made a concerted effort to win the game only to be thwarted by superb defensive tackles on the Ards Number Eight by Kane and Parkhill, leaving the final result 13-10 in favour of Ballymoney.
This was a tremendous and spirited team performance and all the players must be commended on the discipline and commitment they demonstrated to achieve this impressive result.
Aaron Brown was awarded the Man of the Match for his superb angles of running throughout the game which kept Ards on their toes. Particular mention must also go to outhalf Andrew Young whose tackling was superb throughout the second half.
It was good to welcome back prop forward Gary Balmer, a stalwart of the 18s, after an extended period of absence.
This Saturday the team travel to Clogher Valley for their next league fixture and this should be an entertaining match.