Ballymoney remain unbeaten in league

UUC 7 Ballymoney 26

Ballymoney RFC got back to winning ways and maintained their unbeaten league form with a bonus point 26-7 victory over neightbours UUC. This is the first time both teams had met in league action since the two teams competed in section 3 in 2004, which is a testament to both clubs on how they have improved in recent years that they are competing now in Section 1.

Ballymoney were still hit by injuries with front row Ramage, Houston, Bartlett and Irvine all unavailable which lead the way for Mathew Blair to get his first start for the 1st XV and Sam Kyle came to the bench.

The back row was without openside Campbell so Neal Mullholland started his second game at 7 looking to impress the coaching staff ahead of next weeks AIL game in Tullamore.

In the back row Taggart welcomed back the experience of Surgenour at 6 and also in backs Scott Nelson passed a late fitness test to return at scurm half although an injury to outhalf Skelton meant James Campbell would start in the No10 shirt.

Ballymoney got off to a good start and put pressure on UUC from the kickoff. From the clearance kick the toon forwards showed their intent and game play for the slippy conditions as they dominated the early set piece. This lead to a penalty attempt but captain Cleland pushed his 40metre kick just wide.

From the restart Nelson probed the UUC back three with some box kicks and Ballymoney camped out in the UUC 22. A knock on by Hanna and a penalty for holding on from Mullholland close to the line allowed UUC to ease the pressure from a situation which should off been two certain scores.

The first points went to Ballymoney after 20 minutes. After some good driving tight by the forwards they moved the ball wide. UUC were caught short in number and Surgenour picked at the back of the ruck on the 22 and made a break on the blind side. He passed inside to Richmond who off loaded out of the tackle to Hanna. He was pulled down inches short put was able to offload to scrum half Nelson who went in near the corner. Cleland stepped up and with an assured kick added the two point to give Ballymoney a 0-7 lead.

Although Ballymoney had much of the procession the sharpness of the UUC half backs and back three meant that anything they got a penalty or turnover they looked to run the ball wide. On a number of occasions they were able to achieve an overlap but the scramble Ballymoney defence was able to cover and field the resulting kicks into the 22. However with the first half coming to a close some loose play from Ballymoeny resulted in the ball being spilled and UUC capitalised on it to show some slick passing to unleash their strong running winger to run in at the corner. The kick was successful and the half time score ended 7-7.

Although Ballymoney had the lion’s share of territory they knew with the score level they had little to show for their efforts. The next points were key for both sides and it was Ballymoney who took a strangle hold on the game through their pack. The lineout was functioning well and UUC were giving penalties in trying to stop the rolling maul. Cleland kicked to the corner and the toon pack set up the maul and drove over the line for second row Hanna to touch down. Cleland added the conversion and Ballymoney had a 7-14 lead after 50 minutes.

Ballymoney again through the forwards went on the attack and UUC again gave away a penalty in the 22. This time the referee sent their number 8 to the bin for 10 mintues. Ballymoney kept the ball in the forwards and after a series of drives to the line scrum half Nelson gave a neat pass for Andrew Surgenour to crash over. Again the kick was successful and Ballymoeny now lead 7-21 after 60 minutes.

With the Toon defence now more organised UUC with limited ball found their attacking options limited. Ballymoney were on the hunt for the bonus point score and a penalty 10 metres out they opted for the scrum. After a number of reset scrums the pressure was relieved when somehow the UUC blindside unsighted by the referee picked the ball from the foot of the Toon back row and started a home side attack which ended in the Toon 22. With only 5 minutes remaining Ballymoney worked their way up the pitch to a lineout on the 22. This time instead of the catch and drive they moved the ball off the top. Some good driving by John Bellingham took play right to the try line and good hands from the backs allowed McCartney to ghost through a gap and crash over the line for the bonus point socre. The conversation went wide but with the bonus point achieved the rest of the game was played out in midfield as the referee blew for fulltime with the score at 7-26.

Team: Blair, D Watson, Bellingham, Hanna, Graham, Surgenour, Mullholland, Richmond, Nelson, Campbell, Strang, Borthwick, Cleland, C Waton, McCartney, Kyle, Platt.

Man of the Match John Bellingham

Coach Jason Taggart commented after the game: “Our objective was to get the win as it was an away win we needed to make sure of the points. Get the 4 try bonus point was excellent and the guys never gave up until the end.

“We knew UUC were very dangerous out wide so we set the game play off going through our forwards. Our set piece was very effective today and the guys put in alot of hard work. Our defence came together well in the second half which meant we really dominated the game. Unfortunately although we have a good squad the number of changes can mean it takes a while for the team to settle.

“Scott Nelson and Andy Borthwick were playing with injuries and John Richmond picked up a bad bang on the leg. We are away to Tullamore in the AIL cup then home to Portadown in the league so have two big weeks coming up and we hope we can get a number of the guys back from injury soon. However all the guys coming in have done very well. Mathew Blair had a great game in the set piece and Sam Kyle really impressed in the scrum when he came on. Neal Mullholland is settling in well in the back row also.”