RUGBY: Ballymena off to winning start against Dungannon in Nutty Krust tournament

Dungannon's Nicholson Aholelei
and Ballymena's Izaak Hackett
Dungannon's Nicholson Aholelei and Ballymena's Izaak Hackett

The group stages of this season’s Nutty Krust Under-18 Floodlit Cup are underway with Ballymena edging out Dunganon 17-12 at Chambers Park, Portadown.

Among the large crowd watching was Ulster Rugby Talent ID manager, Jonny Gillespie, who saw the Braid boys come from 12-5 behind at the break to secure the victory.

Ballymena's Harry Dempster

Ballymena's Harry Dempster

Dungannon team started in impressive fashion. They produced a series of seven phases of quick ruck ball which enabled an interchange of passes, involving both forwards and backs, to get them on the front foot.

Joma Manu’u broke from the opposition 10m line, beat three defenders by using some outstanding evasion skills, before touching down for a try under the Ballymena posts. Conor McGough added the extras to give the Dungannon team a 7-0 lead after four minutes.

The Tyrone club continued to dominate and the Ballymena defence had to stay sharp. Nicholson Aholelei, Luke Roche and Harley Crawford all featured strongly for the Dungannon team but they could find no way through.

Having soaked up the pressure, Ballymena began to make good use of the possession they were gaining and after a series of penalties, a quick-tap from Jake McKay and Eoin Kitson combined to put Josh Van Loggerenberg in for an unconverted try.

Ballymena's, Sean McCormick accepts the man of the match award from tournament committee member Sid Rowe

Ballymena's, Sean McCormick accepts the man of the match award from tournament committee member Sid Rowe

But Dungannon increased their lead just before the interval when McGough put through a clever grubber kick which was gathered by Manu’u who crossed for the unconverted try and a 12-5 lead.

The second half saw both teams keen to play positive rugby with the ball in hand.

From one flowing Ballymena attack Richard Lamont finished off with a fine try, which was converted by Eoin Kitson, to level the scores at 12-12 four minutes after the restart.

Ballymena gained great confidence from this and Sean McCormack, Josh Henry and Isaak Hackett drove them forward at every opportunity. McCormack became the provider when he won lineout ball which the Ballymena back division moved with great precision. Mark Haveron finished the flowing move off with an unconverted try in the corner to give the Ballymena team a 17-12 lead with 12 minutes of the second half gone.

Back came Dungannon team with some great attacking plays of their own. Manu’u might have completed his hat-trick only for some great Ballymena defence to deny him. The switch of Nicholson Aholelei from the front row of the scrum to the back row of the scrum looked like it was going to pay dividends for Dungannon on a number of occasions.

However, Ballymena’s line remained intact thanks in no small way to the work of McCormack and Van Loggerenberg. One attack near the end of the game by the Dungannon team finished with them gaining a 5m scrum, but they were unable to secure possession.

In one final throw of the dice the Tyrone boys charged up the pitch but The Dungannon Aholelei was bundled into touch just short of the try line.

The losing bonus point secured by Dungannon could still prove crucial in the final shakedown for the semi-final places, but Ballymena are in pole position in Group A.

As usual with the Nutty Krust Tournament the players all received a post-match meal which was sponsored by Jim Hewitt Meats, prepared by the staff in “Scrummies” kitchen and organised by the ever present Sid Rowe. All players, as well as their coaches, received a Nutty Krust loaf on departure courtest of sponsors Iriwn’s Bakery.

Sid Rowe presented the impressive Ballymena blindside, Sean McCormack, with the Nutty Krust “Man of the Match Award” at the post match ceremony.

The group stages continue on Wednesday night when Banbridge meet Rainey at Chambers Park (7.45pm).