On Saturday, in perfect playing conditions, the First XV played host to neighbours Ballymena RFC second XV in their first Conference League game and put in an excellent display of rugby to win convincingly by 48-7 at the Kilraughts Road writes Uel McDowell.
Following their recent disappointing run of results, the Ballymoney men had a point to prove and they achieved this through sheer tenacity, support play, aggression and an eagerness to get their hands on the ball.
Owing to injuries and other unavailable players several changes had to be made to the team; centre Kyle McAuley coming in at number eight alongside Jordan McCaw, forming a speedy back row partnership with David McKeeman, Chris Watson reverting to the wing, John Loughlin and Thomas Knight taking over the centre pairing, all of which added pace to the backline.
From the kick-off, the 1st XV pressed the Braidmen back into their twenty-two, with good aggressive running and support play and they followed this up after 20 minutes with their first score. Ballymoney were then awarded a penalty which was taken quickly and, when the ball was passed swiftly along the backline, centre John Loughlin broke through the visitors’ line at pace to score the first of his three tries,converted by Andrew Young. Eleven minutes later, Kyle McAuley scored an unconverted try, following some sterling work by the pack on the Ballymena line. The Ballymoney lads were demonstrating good controlled rucking and mauling, and their speed to the breakdown led to another try by winger Chris Watson, who cut inside the Ballymena defence to score beside the posts. Another conversion by Andrew Young left the half-time score 19-0 in favour of the home team.
The second half had just resumed when Chris Watson scored his second try, when he outpaced his opposite number to score beside the posts. Five minutes later, winger John Gilkinson accepted an offload from Thomas Knight to score in the corner. Andrew Young converted, putting Ballymoney 31-0 ahead.
The home team’s constant pressure on the Ballymena backline caused the visiting team some angst and careless mistakes which the Kilraughts Road men pounced on at every opportunity. This resulted in another Ballymoney try, when winger John Gilkinson broke the visitors’ defensive line from his own twenty two and cleverly offloaded to scrum-half Matthew Steele, who ran in to score between the posts. Again, Andrew Young converted.
With 15 minutes remaining, centre John Loughlin scored his second try when, receiving an offload, he outpaced a flatfooted visitors’ defence to score an unconverted try, and several minutes later, his third, when incessant Ballymoney defence caused Ballymena to drop the ball, he snapped it up, and ran at full throttle from his own twenty-two line to score a superb unconverted try.
With only seconds remaining on the clock, the Braidmen, scored a consolation converted try in the top corner, leaving the final result at 48-7 to Ballymoney. We wish the Ballymena player, who was unfortunate to receive an injury, a speedy recovery.
This was an excellent display of rugby by Ballymoney, who played with discipline, pace,physicality and controlled aggression throughout the game. It would be difficult to single out any particular player, but special mention should go to Kyle McAuley, who played exceptionally well at number eight and to all of the backline.