Ballymena advanced to the final of the First Trust Ulster Senior Cup with a 27-15 win over Queen’s University at Eaton Park.
It may look like a convincing score line, but a lively, skilful Queen’s team had Ballymena in all sorts of trouble in the opening period, moving the ball at pace in the backs and getting the better of things up front.
So it came as no surprise when they were first on the scoreboard with a Jack Gordon penalty after sixteen minutes for a 3-0 lead, which they thoroughly deserved.
They went further ahead In the 26th minute when a mistake in the Ballymena midfield was pounced on by the Queen’s backs and centre Paddy Farrell scored at the posts leaving Gordon with a straightforward conversion, opening up a ten point lead.
A scrum fifteen metres from their try line was powerfully driven forward by the home side, with Matthew Rea controlling the ball beautifully at No. 8. He picked up and fed Glenn Baillie who sliced through the defence for a fine individual try, which Andrew Magrath converted.
With the score now at 10-7 and about ten minutes to go to half time, Ballymena looked more comfortable but any complacency was dispelled when a Queens’ attack. which seemed to have broken down after a long pass that went astray, was carried on by hooker Herdman.
When the ball was quickly laid back, scrum half Milligan found no one at home on the narrow side and skated in for a try to stretch the lead to 15-7, which is how it stood at half time.
The second half saw the Ballymena pack begin to assert itself, and it was another great drive from a scrum, with the ball again controlled at the back of the scrum by Rea, that allowed Baillie in from close range for his second try, converted by Magrath. reducing the Queen’s lead to one point at 15-14.
Magrath then kicked a penalty to give Ballymena the lead for the first time in the game, and he repeated the dose shortly afterwards to give the home team a 20-15 lead.
Ballymena then put the issue beyond doubt with a great individual try by Richie McMaster, who had replaced Jordan Foster.
A Queen’s grubber kick bounced off the legs of a Ballymena player and McMaster was the first to react; he scooped up the ball at pace and sprinted the sixty metres to the line with Queen’s in hot pursuit, grounding the ball far out on the right, and Magrath kicked a fine conversion from the touchline to make the score 27-15.
There were still nearly fifteen minutes left in the game, and to their credit Queen’s continued to attack, but the home defence held firm and the score at the final whistle stood at 27-15 in favour of the home side.
The other semi-final, between Harlequins and Ballynahinch, ended in a 5 all draw after extra time, so that will have to be replayed.