Ballymena defeat Bohemians and the weather to remain second in league

Ballymena Rugby Club.
Ballymena Rugby Club.

It was a difficult struggle for Ballymena against a UL Bohs side who started the day just one place in the league table above bottom side, Harlequins.

At the end of a rain swept game Ballymena still retained their second place in Division 1B.

The rain relented for the first part of the game, so both sides attempted to put some width on the ball, but neither side could make any inroads against well organised, determined defences.

That was the story of the first half, and the only scoring came from two penalties for each team.

Richie McMaster opened the Ballymena account with a well struck penalty after four minutes, awarded by the referee when the Bohs scrum crumpled in the face of a concerted drive by the home pack, and that scrum superiority remained a feature of the home performance for most of the game.

There was not much between the sides in the opening period, with Ballymena enjoying a slight edge, so it was somewhat against the run of play when UL Bohs equalised with a Rick McKenna penalty from forty-five metres.

On the half hour another tremendous drive by the home pack forced UL Bohs to collapse the scrum, and McMaster stepped up again to kick his second penalty, opening up a slender 6-3 lead.

Five minutes later McKenna was on target for the second time to level the scores, which is how it stayed until half time.

With the conditions deteriorating both sides were finding it difficult to play constructive rugby, so it was hard to see where the next score might come from, and when it came it was in the unlikely form a left foot dropped goal from Martin Irwin to put his side back in the lead at 9-6.

Ballymena’s next points came again from a scrum drive leading to a penalty, converted this time by Andrew Magrath who had replaced McMaster. The 12-6 lead was welcome, but a converted try would still have one the match.

The crucial two score cushion came when a Magrath penalty went wide and UL Bohs dropped out down the middle of the field. Shanahan fielded the ball and passed to Rodger McBurney who dropped a goal from fully forty-five metres opening up a nine point lead.

That seemed to spur Bohs on and for the next period of the game they dictated the play, to the extent that Ballymena had two players, Kane and Mulholland, yellow carded.

Now down to thirteen men, Ballymena faced a real threat from a lineout five metres from their line, but Bohs spurned this opportunity with a crooked throw.

Although the six man home scrum came under pressure, they still managed to clear the ball, but a missed kick to touch set Bohs on the attack again.

Those defensive qualities that have seen Ballymena get out of many a tight spot again came to the fore.

The final assault was stemmed when Bohs gave away a penalty and conceded forty metres with the relieving kick, The Ballymena scrum, now up to seven men, reasserted its dominance and for the rest of the game Bohs were held in a vice like grip inside their own twenty two, the game finishing with Ballymena back to full strength, holding on to that 15-6 lead.

This game showed that there are no easy games in this league, and it took a gutsy performance from the whole Ballymena team to beat this side lying near the bottom of the table.

Next Saturday sees the completion of the first cycle of nine AIL games, as Ballymena travel to Dublin to take on Old Wesley, currently fourth in the table and enjoying an excellent season since their promotion from Division 2A.