Ballymena Academy reached the semi-finals of the Danske Bank Schools’ Cup with a hard-fought 20-9 win over Belfast Royal Academy this morning.
The two sides had not met in the Schools’ Cup since the 2010 Final, a game which saw the Belfast team containing Stuart Olding and Iain Henderson lose a nail-biting 10 – 7 contest to a Ballymena side that included John Andrew and Matthew Rea.
Six years on, the sides met again at the Galgorm Road venue with Marcus Rea’s team going into the match as favourites following a strong performance against Wallace High. It was B.R.A. who opened the scoring when full back Michael Wilson coolly slotted an early penalty following a Ballymena indiscretion.
This early set-back seemed to spark the home team to life and, after several carries, they found themselves with a lineout ten metres from the B.R.A. line. Following an accurate throw from Alexander Clarke, Ballymena drove aggressively towards the try line and Jonathan McKeown was on hand to touch down. Bruce Houston added the extras for a 7 – 3 lead and he made no mistake with a penalty to increase his team’s lead to 10 – 3.
The breakdown was proving to be an extremely competitive area of the game, with both teams generating penalties and turn-overs. From one of these penalties, Michael Wilson knocked over the kick to reduce the deficit to 10 – 6. On the stroke of half-time, Bruce Houston confidently struck his second penalty of the morning for a 13 – 6 half-time lead.
The second half progressed, the game became an increasingly scrappy affair with Ballymena working hard to find attacking field position but struggling to break down the gritty B.R.A. defence. Ballymena Academy were turned over in the middle of the field and an infringement by full-back, Mark Thompson, was punished with both a yellow card and a Michael Wilson penalty.
At 13 – 9, and with fourteen men, the home team played some of their best rugby of the morning as they kept possession through a number of phases. Shortly after the return of Mark Thompson, Ballymena scored the crucial try of the morning. Conor Cosgrove linked with Angus Kernohan and the Ballymena centre showed pace and strength to finish from forty metres out. Bruce Houston added the conversion to stretch the lead to 20 – 9.
Ten minutes later, the final whistle sounded with the Ballymena Academy team relieved to have seen off a resilient B.R.A. side and looking forward to taking their place in the semi-final against holders and favourites Royal Belfast Academical Institution.
Ballymena Academy: Thompson, Cosgrove, Small, Kernohan, Gallagher, Houston, Stronge; Forsythe, Clarke, Bill, McLeister, Jordan, Rea, McKeown, Allison. Rep used McClean, S Agnew, Savoury, Moody, Gocher, C Agnew Not used Foster, Barkley