Ballymena Rugby Club suffered a setback on their return to Ulster Champions League when they were beaten 17-8 at City of Derry.
The Braidmen went into the game in confident form on the back of four All-Ireland League wins and an Ulster Senior Cup victory.
But Judges Road has never been a happy hunting ground for Ballymena teams in recent years, and Saturday’s visit to the North West proved equally fruitless and disappointing.
It was Ballymena who exerted all the pressure in the first twenty minutes of the game, but a combination of poor decisions and determined Derry defence meant that the game remained scoreless.
The home side were the first to put points on the board when they broke away down the field to score a try, which was converted to give them a 7-0 lead.
McMaster reduced the arrears when he kicked a penalty, but despite again putting pressure on Derry, the usually tight Ballymena defence was breached again for another Derry try, again converted to extend their lead to 14 points to 3, which is how it stayed until half time.
The second half started in a torrential downpour, but the pattern of play continued as before, with Ballymena continuing to make mistakes and make poor decisions.
They did pull Derry back through a Paddy James try, and at 14-8 a Ballymena revival did seem possible, but it was Derry who rounded off the scoring with a penalty to make the final score 17-8.
Coach Andy Graham felt that this was a game that his side could have won, but just didn’t perform on the day, although he was happy enough with the set piece play at scrum and lineout.
Ballymena enjoyed lengthy periods of pressure but made poor decisions at crucial times. The defence, which had been the hallmark of the AIL campaign so far, was not as effective as it had been. He did pay tribute to Derry, who had played well throughout.
Next up is the quarter final of the First Trust Senior Cup, which will be played under lights at Eaton Park on Friday night, with a 7:45 kick off.