Ballymena Academy will play Belfast Royal Academy in the quarter-finals of the Danske Bank Schools’ Cup after seeing off Wallace High School 12-3 in this morning’s clash.
A tight contest was expected given that each team had recorded a victory over the other earlier in the season and the match lived up to its billing.
Ballymena enjoyed the better of the early exchanges in terms of possession and territory but found themselves up against a well-organised Wallace High defence. The Ballymena Academy half-backs, Michael Stronge and Bruce Houston, were managing the game confidently and creating opportunities for ball-carriers such as Angus Kernohan, Alexander Clarke and Jonathan McKeown.
Following a penalty, Bruce Houston kicked to the corner and Ballymena Academy drove over from a line-out for the opening try of the morning. Oisin Jordan applied the finishing touch to a well-executed maul and Bruce Houston added the extras from the touchline to increase the lead to 7 – 0.
Wallace High lifted their game and Jonny Stewart was a constant threat with his probing runs and kicks. The Ballymena Academy back three of Mark Thompson, Conor Cosgrove and Conor Gallagher were very tidy and accurate with ball that was kicked to them, with Thompson looking dangerous in space.
Ben Finlay, playing at inside centre for Wallace High, made several strong runs into the Ballymena half and, following an infringement at the breakdown, Wallace High were awarded a penalty which Jonny Stewart duly slotted.
Deep into injury time in the first half, Ballymena Academy found themselves on the attack again. They retained possession through at least twenty phases with Josh Bill and Chris McLeister making ground with the ball in hand.
Despite some outstanding tackling from the Wallace High players, the away team had no answer to an aggressive charge from the Ballymena captain, Marcus Rea, who powered over for an excellent try. Bruce Houston missed the conversion into the wind and the half ended with Ballymena ahead by 12 – 3.
In the second half, with conditions worsening, both teams played a less open game in an attempt to minimise mistakes.
Wallace High were dealt a blow when Ben Finlay was forced to leave the field with a head injury and Ballymena continued to enjoy the better of the exchanges in the set piece. Marcus Rea was at the centre of all of Ballymena’s best moments and he was ably supported by the continued strong running of Alexander Clarke and Jonny McKeown.
Ultimately, it was the defence of both teams that dominated the second period. Ballymena Academy looked more likely to score but Wallace High should be commended for their never-say-die attitude. A scoreless second half meant that Ballymena Academy progressed to the Quarter Final with a 12 – 3 victory.
Ballymena Academy: Thompson, Cosgrove, Small, Kernohan, Gallagher, Houston, Stronge; Forsythe, Clarke, Bill, McLeister, Jordan, Rea, McKeown, Allison. Rep used McClean, Barkley Not used Agnew, Savoury, Moody, Gocher, McKee, Foster