Ballymena Rugby Club maintained their quest for back-to-back All-Ireland League promotions with another important win on Saturday.
Andy Graham’s men kept up their position among the sides chasing a place in the top flight by overcoming UL Bohemaian by 33 points to 12 at Eaton Park.
It was important that Ballymena continued their quest with a victory against mid-table Bohs and, even allowing for the difficult weather conditions, it was a match in which Ballymena were in control for the majority of the time.
At this part of the season the All Ireland League campaign is broken up into small chunks, to fit in round the Six Nations schedule, so the Ballymena game against Bohemians on Saturday was the first one since early January and the next one is not until 21st February, when three decisive games are due to be played.
UL Bohs came to Ballymena having won only three games in Division 1B, but for the first ten minutes more than held their own, even taking a five point lead when a clever kick by scrum half Farrell was plucked out of the air by left wing Tim Rafferty who ran in thirty metres to ground the ball far out on the left.
In the bitingly cold wind that blew throughout the game, the conversion was unlikely and that’s how it proved.
The rest of the first half saw Ballymena assert their dominance with an entertaining brand of fast attacking rugby, but to their credit Bohs defended well and stifled the home side’s efforts.
But the pressure eventually told, and, with the scrum getting the better of their opposition and Dominic Gallagher prominent in the loose, the try eventually came.
A Bohs kick ahead was fielded by Jordan Foster on the right touchline and the ball was quickly moved infield to Sean Taylor who made ground down the middle.
The movement was carried on by the pack and when the ball broke loose John Andrew picked up and ran in to score between the posts, leaving Richie McMaster an easy conversion.
He also converted the next Ballymena try, scored by Dave Shanhan who took advantage of some strong running in midfield by Paddy James, picking up the quickly recycled ball and outpacing the Bohs defence for a fine individual effort. That left the half time score 14-5 for the home side.
Ballymena’s third try came shortly after the restart when after a period of sustained pressure by the pack on the Bohs line, Andrew Warwick, making a welcome appearance in Ballymena colours, scored out on the right to give his side a 19-5 cushion.
The bonus point arrived with award of a penalty try by the referee when the Bohs pack buckled under the pressure when it looked as if Ballymena were heading for a push over try.
McMaster’s simple conversion increased the lead to 26-3.
The mistakes that Bohs had been making proved their undoing again, when Gallagher snaffled up a dropped ball and fed Marty Irwin in support.
When he went to ground Gallagher was again instrumental in securing possession and a quick pass to Paddy James put him in to a gap.
He showed great pace and strength to make his way to the line for another try which McMaster again converted to bring Ballymena’s points tally to 33.
Bohs then enjoyed their period of supremacy and they were rewarded with a try by hooker Byrne, converted by Airey.
That try did not affect the outcome but it did deprive Ballymena of third spot in the table on points difference with Dublin University.
There is now a clear pattern to Division 1B.
There are four teams well clear of the chasing pack, Galwegians topping the table with Garryowen, Dublin University and Ballymena in hot pursuit.
In the next series of games Garryowen play Dublin University in Dublin and Ballymena play Galwegians at Eaton Park, so that Saturday, 21st February, may turn out to be moving day.
Before then, Ballymena return to Ulster Championship League action tonight (Tuesday) when they host Queen’s University at Eaton Park.
Ballymena Seconds have been drawn at home in the quarter final of the Powerade Towns’ Cup.
They will play Portadown on 14th February.
The Seconds had a convincing 49-0 win over City of Derry at the weekend.