Ballymoney show fighting spirit against leaders Instonians, but come up short

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After last week’s spirited performance against high flying Bangor, Ballymoney welcomed Instonians to Kilraughts Road.

With the visitors contesting the top of the table, the home side knew this would be a tough task, but with nothing to lose, they set out to give the same display of dogged determination.

John Bellingham’s enthusiasm put him into the starting lineup, and with David Holmes still out nursing a hand injury, Andy Borthwick was called up to the bench. But with Adrian Graham suffering from illness all week, a late change saw Borthwick start at 8, Mulholland up into the second row, and the evergreen Jason Taggart take the bench slot.

From the first minute, the visitors put the Toon side under pressure - and with a penalty from the first breakdown, Inst put the ball in the corner and set their stall out to bully the home forwards into submission. Further penalties at the breakdown, and sustained pressure meant that Ballymoney were happy to escape with only the loss of three points.

With a chance to relieve the pressure, Ballymoney went on the attack, and started playing through some phases - but more indiscipline gave another penalty that let the visitors set up camp in the home 22 once more. This time, a series of drives allowed the prop to score in the corner. 0-8 after 15 minutes.

From there the match evened out - Ballymoney gained spells of possession that led to a series of set plays in the Inst 22. But whether through over-eagerness, poor choices, or basic mistakes, the Instonians defence was not really questioned in anger. Their organisation and keenness at the breakdown were sufficient to snuff out any prospect of catching them out. HT 0-8.

The second half continued in much the same vein. Ballymoney now enjoying better territory, thanks to playing the ball down into the corners - but whenever a chance opened up, a pass behind the man, or a missed call prevented the defence from really being challenged.

As the match moved to the last 20, first Dave Watson went off for a spell in the bin - largely due to a succession of penalties at the breakdown. With the reshuffle, and Taggart on for Borthwick, the 7 man scrum held their own for long spells. And when Jonny Linton went off with a hand injury, Borthwick came back on to add more ballast to the defensive effort.

Ballymoney were digging deep, putting a series of big hits, and one cover tackle on the corner flag, to keep the visitors at bay. Indeed a couple of sparks of counter attack from loose kicks briefly flared, but amounted to nothing too troubling for the visitors.

Almost as soon as Watson returned, Danny Platt took his turn in the bin. And this time the pressure just became too much - Inst scoring off a scrum on the right hand side, in the last play of the game.

Player-Coach Jason Taggart observed that Ballymoney “can be proud of the determination, but need to capitalise on chances to put pressure on the defence, and cut out the simple penalties.”

The next game for the 1st XV is on the 20th, away to Donaghadee, in what is now a must-win encounter.