Another stylish performance as Braidmen stretch unbeaten record

Matthew Harkness touches down under the posts for Ballymena in their weekend All-Ireland League victory over Blackrock. Picture: Press Eye.

Matthew Harkness touches down under the posts for Ballymena in their weekend All-Ireland League victory over Blackrock. Picture: Press Eye.

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Ballymena Rugby Club maintained their 100 per cent start to the Ulster Bank AIL Division 1B campaign with an impresive 43-13 win over Blackrock.

The visitors probably created a little piece of history on Saturday, by being the first Division 1 side to arrive at Eaton Park without their playing kit, but Ballymena stepped up and lent them their alternative kit, allowing the match to continue.

Members of Ballymena RFC and their guests before Saturday's pre-match lunch of the Ballymena v Blackrock AIL game and the Ballymena 2nds v Bangor RFC Junior Cup games at Eaton Park. INBT 43-190CS

Members of Ballymena RFC and their guests before Saturday's pre-match lunch of the Ballymena v Blackrock AIL game and the Ballymena 2nds v Bangor RFC Junior Cup games at Eaton Park. INBT 43-190CS

They soon showed what they were capable of when some hard running by their backs appeared to have created a try, but the referee disallowed it and awarded Ballymena a penalty.

The early exchanges were pretty even, with both side showing a willingness to move the ball, but even at this stage it was clear the Ballymena possessed the more powerful scrum which had the visitors in all kinds of trouble.

The deadlock was broken after eighteen minutes when a Blackrock kick out of defence fell into the arms of Jordan Foster who made about thirty metres down the right touchline.

He was stopped, but the ball was quickly recycled and moved into midfield where Matthew Harkness took a pass at pace and sprinted over for a try between the posts, McMaster converting easily for a 7-0 lead.

Editor of the Ballymena RFC yearbook Bill Wallace (left) presents a copy to club president Guy McCullough before Saturday's AIL game with Blackrock at Eaton Park. INBT 43-189CS

Editor of the Ballymena RFC yearbook Bill Wallace (left) presents a copy to club president Guy McCullough before Saturday's AIL game with Blackrock at Eaton Park. INBT 43-189CS

Five minutes later Ballymena scored again, when a Blackrock clearance was charged down giving Ballymena a lineout ten metres out.

David Whann, once again in superb form in the lineout, took the ball and the pack drove over the line for a touchdown by Adam McBurney far out on the right. McMaster landed the difficult conversion for a 14 point lead.

On the half hour mark a promising Blackrock attack was halted illegally and they were awarded a penalty, which full back Alan Hughes converted for a 14-3 score line.

The last ten minutes of the half saw two yellow cards, one for Blackrock when centre Coughlan stepped round the back of a ruck and prevented Ballymena from winning possession near his line, and one for Stephen Mulholland for a high tackle.

With the last kick of the half McMaster landed a penalty from the right touchline to make the half time score 17-3.

The visitors started the second half with real intent and took the game to Ballymena, and with Mulholland just back on field things looked ominous when Whann was also yellow carded, and the team was facing a Blackrock lineout five metres from their try line.

They made a mess of this opportunity and the depleted Ballymena scrum still managed to gain possession and a strong run by Mulholland cleared the danger.

Blackrock continued to press and only a try saving tackle by Rodger McBurney and some determined defence held them out.

The pressure was finally rewarded with another Hughes penalty, but their only try of the game came when Mikey Carroll intercepted a pass and ran forty metres to score at the posts, making the conversion easy.

With the score now at 17-13, and Blackrock enjoying territory and possession, the Ballymena support felt that the game was slipping away, so nobody was prepared for what came next, as their team ran in four tries in the closing fifteen minutes,

The first of these came after another brilliant run by Rodger McBurney who took play almost to the Blackrock line and threw an overhead pass to Glenn Baillie.

He nearly got in, but James Taggart was on hand to keep the movement going and his slipped pass put Connor Smyth in for the try.

Andrew Magrath, who had replaced McMaster, missed the conversion.

Almost from the restart a wild pass in the Blackrock midfield saw the ball bounce into Callum Patterson’s hands, and he outpaced the defence in a 55 metre dash for the line.

Magrath made no mistake this time and with minutes remaining the 29-13 score looked safe enough.

But Ballymena went on the attack again and a long pass from Marty Irwin put Kieran Joyce clear. He found Irwin in support on the inside and he raced over for a try, again converted by Magrath, making the score 36-13.

Another Connor Smyth try after good work by the pack was converted by Magrath making the final score 43-13.

That victory puts Ballymena at the top of Division 1B, with five wins out of five and a total of 23 points.

There is no AIL game next Saturday, but the campaign resumes on 3rd October with a trip to Buccaneers.