Ballymoney RFC 1st XV returned from Donaghadee with a narrow defeat on Saturday but with the consolation of a losing bonus point.
With both clubs moving between leagues in recent years this was the first league encounter at Donaghadee in a number of years.
The weather did not dictate a running rugby game as there was a strong breeze blowing up and down the pitch towards the bottom end.
Ballymoney had made a number of changes on Saturday with Peter Irvine staying at hooker, Jonny Hanna moving from back row to his old position of second row to cover for the injured Danny Platt. David Campbell was unavailable at open-side so James Bellingham started at 6 with Andrew Surgenor moving to 7.
In the backs David Calvin hadn’t recovered from the calf injury he gathered in last week’s game and Chris Watson moved from the wing to 1st centre with Ewan Strang coming in to take the no11 shirt. Michael Allen was rewarded with his good performances for the 2nd XV as he was selected for bench for the 1st time this year.
Ballymoney kicked off with wind advantage but it was going to take time for the changes to settle. Scrum and lineouts were even in the first 10minutes, but Donaghadee had the majority of the procession as Ballymoney defended.
The Ballymoney defensive line held firm as Donaghadee found it difficult to break them down. This resulted in their outhalf opting to kick over the top but full-back McCartney cleared the danger well.
Ballymoney used the wind to kick to the corner with Henderson and Nelson leaving off from their display last week with some good kicks.
Although the back 3 of Donaghadee were positioned well the wind did not allow to long range clearance kicks. From a lineout in the Dee 22 Ballymoney centre Watson crashed it up close to the posts, the forwards worked the ball wider and when Nelson passed out the back line the Dee centre was penalised for offside.
McCartney slotted the ball over to break the dead lock and give Ballymoney a narrow 3-0 lead after 15 minutes.
Turnovers at the breakdown were even although Dee were counter rucking well with their large forwards and Ballymoney more mobile pack were wining the ball if Dee got isolated.
The next 10 minutes again was played in the middle of the park as defences cancelled each other out. It was going to take a quick reaction from someone to break the defence and the quick thinking came from the Dee scrum half.
From a penalty on the Ballymoney 10metere line, he tapped quickly and broke down the blind, he passed to the winger which created a 2 on 1 against fullback McCartney and his quick hands allowed the winger to score in the corner. The conversion was added to give Donaghadee the lead 7-3.
Ballymoney attacked again from the kick off but the discipline from both teams was good in their own 22 and with the wind little scoring chances were available. Dee defended their 22 well with an effective lineout and scrum.
Again play was in the middle of the pitch and on the stroke of half time Dee hit again.
This time the openside seen Ballymoney left a gap at the side of the ruck and he picked and darted through the whole and ran in unopposed between the posts. The kick was converted to leave the half time score at 14-3
Ballymoney knew that the score line didn’t reflect how they had played and what they were capable of.
Instead of defending the Ballymoney forwards decided now to take the game to Dee.
Straight away the back line moved the ball to the wing.
The forwards took the ball on and got behind the gain line.
A quick ruck again stretched the Dee defence, however as the overlap appeared the ball was held in and Ballymoney got a penalty.
The kick was pushed wide but the visitors now had some believe and from the 22 went on the attack again.
Good pressure from a lineout seen the forwards again drive at the Dee forwards. When they switch back Nelson found prop Houston who ran a great line which cut through most of the Dee forward and his pace allowed him to cross the line for the try below the posts.
The conversion was added to leave the score 14-10. Dee soaked up this pressure and used the wind advantage they now had and kicked Ballymoney down the hill.
They put pressure on the Ballymoney line but the toon players defended hard and kept them out. The ball was cleared with the wind to the 22.
However the Dee scrum half who was having an strong game made the difference again.
He carried the ball up the blind side at a ruck on the 22.
He broke two tackles and stayed on his feet to create the try in the corner next the club house. The conversion was missed but Dee now had their 3rd try and lead again 19-10.
Ballymoney worked back into the Dee half and were awarded the penalty far out on the 10 metre line. This time Nelson seen the opportunity of the cross field kick to Strang however the wind caught it and it dropped short.
The rushed clearance kick fell to winger Campbell who kept the pressure on. The ball was moved to the centre of the pitch but a knock on by the forwards gave Dee a chance to clear their lines. However as they worked a field position, Irvine tackled their second row and Richmond when in high and ripped the ball out of his arms in the maul.
He then spun round and had a clear run in below the posts. The conversion was kicked and with 10 minutes left the score was now 19-17.
However the Dee experience told in the last 10 minutes as they use the wind and the slope in the pitch to pin Ballymoney in their own 22.
The team defended well at the lineout, scrum and at the edge of the ruck to keep the Dee team out. They were awarded a penalty in front of the posts in injury time and opted for the kick to end the game 22-17.
Team: Ramage, Irvine, Houston, Clyde, Hanna, Bellingham, Surgenor, Richmond, Nelson, Henderson, Campbell, Watson, Cleland (c), Strang, McCartney, Bartlett, Allen.