Toon downed in Dee thriller

Ballymoney 1st XV cup dreams ended on Saturday as they were defeated 30-27 away to Donaghadee in the Towns Cup 2nd round.

With a narrow defeat to the Co. Down team earlier in the season and a draw in Ballymoney this was always going to be a tough game. The conditions were near perfect for a game of running rugby with the pitch in good condition despite the heavy rain.

Ballymoney started the game at a fast pace and attacked deep into the “Dee” 22, however a few early nerves resulted in penalties to Donaghadee and it allowed them to clear their lines. However the Ballymoney lineout was working well and gave the backs good ball to attack from. The forwards were quick to react and a number of carries from Irvine, Hanna, Campbell and Richmond brought play near the Donaghadee try line. As previous weeks, scrum half Nelson was keeping the home teams defence on their toes and a snipe by Nelson was stopped just short, however quick ball resulted in blindside Surgenor crashing over for the opening score with less than 10minutes played. The kick below the posts was successful from Captain Cleland and Ballymoney had an early lead 0-7.

The game was soon developing into a contest between Ballymoney’s younger faster backs and forwards verses the larger and experienced Donaghadee team. The experience and patience of the Dee half backs allowed them to make clever yards up the pitch with an excellent kicking game. The kicks were well chased by back row of Millar and centre and Captain Harper. Play was brought into the Toon 22 and after several phases of play a change of direction from the Dee scrum half saw Ballymoney defence short in numbers. A pass to a Dee prop allowed him to break the line and score under the posts. The conversion was added by Santos and the game was all square.

Ballymoney again went on the attack and as the game flowed between each sides half, two more penalties were exchanged with Ballymoney first taking the lead through the boot of Cleland and then a few minutes later Santos levelled the game at 10-10 with 20 minutes played.

The next 20 minutes would be all Ballymoney. They attacked the line of Donaghadee and were awarded a kick in front of the posts. With Dee switching off Cleland tapped quickly and passed long to Hanna. However his pass to Nevin fell short and the chance was gone. Ballymoney were soon back on the attack a few minutes later. From an excellent lineout work by the forwards the ball was moved out the back line. The pace and hands from the young backs saw full back Cormac McCartney cross the line in the corner from first phase. Cleland added the conversion and now Ballymoney led 10-17, with 10 minutes of the half remaining.

It would be the Toon backs that would make the difference again. This time from the opposite side of the pitch the ball moved out the back line. Centre Cleland, fullback McCartney and Winger Strang all combined to break the gain line and the final pass put Strang in space with 20 metres to go. The young winger showed his pace as he beat the cover defence to score below the posts. Again Cleland added the extra points for a lead now of 10-24.

The last action of the half saw Ballymoney outhalf Ben Henderson first to react to a dropped pass from Donaghedee. His kick through looked to be covered by the Dee fullback although his hesitation to collect meant that Ben dived in on the ball as the fullback dropped to touch it down. The decision from the referee however was a 5metre scrum to Ballymoney. Ballymoney couldn’t capitalise from the scrum and play was brought to a close.

Ballymoney now had to keep the ball for the next 40minutes however Donaghadee at home in front of a large crowd had different ideas. They attacked straightaway and with their forwards showing a new lease of life gave their team quick ruck ball. Ballymoney started to panic and old habits from the start of the season crept back into their play as they gave away penalties when under pressure. From a penalty 5metres out Ballymoney switched off and Dee second row Thompson took a quick tap and forced his way over the line. The difficult conversion was made to look easy by Santos and the lead was reduced to 17-24 with 50 minutes played.

Ballymoney started to build phases but could not really penetrate the Dee 22. There was some good play again from McCartney as he made a number of breaks but the organisation and experience of the Dee defence stopped play. Turnovers or penalties allowed Donaghadee to clear their lines and again their superior kicking game pinned back Ballymoney. With the visitors being warned by the Referee, Ballymoney lost a player to sinbin with 20 minutes remaining. During this time a number of catch and drives from the lineout were stopped by Ballymoney but after some close play by the Donaghadee pack they were awarded a scrum 5metres out. The pressure from the scrum resulted in Number 8 Millar scoring a try. The kick was successful and the game was now drawn 24-24.

With 15 mintues left Ballymoney brought on Bartlett and David Watson to put some fresh legs in the Toon pack. Ballymoney continued to try and work the ball up the pitch but some good kicking brought play back into the Ballymoney half. With Dee keeping possession they were awarded two further penalties. Santos made no mistakes as he kicked both of them to give his team a vital 30-24 lead with less than 10 minutes on the clock.

Ballymoney’s never-say-die attitude meant they upped their game and drove hard at the Dee pack. Their reward was a penalty of their own which Cleland kicked to keep the game alive and make the score 30-27 with only moments left. The final passage of play saw the Toon forwards and backs move the larger Dee team about the pitch and when an inside ball was slapped down by the Donaghadee prop the Referee awarded a penalty. With the clock dead, Captain Cleland stepped up to take the kick. However in difficult conditions the kick drifted wide and game ended 30-27 to Donaghadee.

Man of the Match: Cormac McCartney. Team: Ramage, Irvine, Houston, Hanna, Platt, Surgenor, Campbell, Richmond, Nelson, Henderson, Nevin, C Watson, Cleland (C), Strang, McCartney, D Watson, Bartlett.

Coach Jason Taggart commented after the game: “It is very disappointing to have lost today especially when we played such good rugby and had such a commanding lead at half time. However all credit to Donaghadee, they are a good side and showed their experience in the second half. I have said all season that we are a young side and we will learn from this. The future for the team is very promising. Now we have to concentrate on our last three league games and take as many points as possible so we can finish as high up in the league as possible, securing that important AIL Cup position. This week before we start the league run in we play Ballymena 2nds in the conference league. With it being one of our last home games this season I will be aiming not to rest too many of the guys and put out a strong side as we try and keep the momentum of this team going. I would finally like to thank the large number of travelling support on Saturday and although we didn’t get the win they were all entertained to an exciting game of rugby!”