Ballymena Rugby Club First XV returned to winning form on Saturday with a crushing 43-15 win over Shannon in the All-Ireland League.
On a perfect day for Rugby at Eaton Park, Ballymena scored six tries against a Shannon side which quite early on was reduced to fourteen players’ when second row Ruari O’Donnell was dismissed for a tip tackle.
The home side got off to the perfect start when a series of drives by the pack set up a perfect position for scrum half Glenn Baillie to move the ball quickly to McMaster who threw out a long pass which took the Shannon defence out of the game and released Tim Small to go in at the corner.
The day got worse for Shannon following the red card, but it was the visitors that exerted the most pressure over the next period and they were rewarded with a penalty which out half Tadgh Bennet converted, leaving them only four points in arrears and still pressing.
Approaching half time Ballymena were still having difficulty dealing with the 14 men of Shannon, but a great piece of interplay between forwards and backs created space on the outside for No6 Stephen Mulholland, subsequently named ‘Man of the Match’, to finish strongly and score far out on the right. McMaster’s touchline conversion opened up a 14-3 half time lead.
That there was no room for complacency was amply demonstrated early in the second half when out half Bennet threaded a beautifully weighted grubber through the Ballymena defensive line. The ball was hacked on and the Ballymena cover failed to get back in time to prevent winger O’Donovan, following up very fast, to get the touchdown for the try. The conversion by Bennet reduced the lead to only four points, but it was clear that the exertion of playing with a man short was beginning to take its toll on the Shannon players and from that point on Ballymena began to turn the screw.
A penalty by McMaster extended his side’s lead, and from that point on Ballymena began to dominate proceedings and added four more tries against a tiring Shannon.
The pressure set up a position close to the opposition line and when the ball was moved left McMaster threw one of his trade mark long passes which found Sean Taylor in space. His perfectly timed pass left Tim Small with the easiest of tasks and he cantered over for his second try of the game, McMaster again adding the conversion
Ricky Andrew was next on the score sheet when a clever back move, with Marty Irwin running a decoy line, saw him crash through the Shannon defence for a try, which Tim Small, who had taken over at no. 10 from McMaster, converted to put Ballymena virtually out of sight at 31-10.
By this time the backs were beginning to find room to work in, and full back Sean Taylor was on hand twice to finish off good work by the inside backs. His first was the result of a long pass by Ricky Andrew which put him in space on the right, but still with work to do. He stepped inside the cover to score half way out, Tim Small converting for a 38-10 lead.
Taylor’s second was the result of some skilful handling, first by Dominic Gallagher, who off loaded to Paddy james, who flipped out a pass to Ricky Andrew. He shipped the ball on to Taylor, who shrugged of a couple of defenders to score for the only unconverted try of the six which Ballymena scored.
The last word, however, belonged to Shannon, who in the fourth minute of injury team worked a position close to the Ballymena line and put winger O’Donovan in for a try far out on the right. The conversion failed and the whistle went.
The bonus point Ballymena win moves them back up to second place in the Division 1B table, with eight matches of the scheduled 18 played.