Ballymena warmed up for the start of their All-Ireland League campaign by claiming their first Ulster Championship League win in emphatic style against Ards.
The County Down side had little or no answer to the pace of the home team, especially in the backs, as Ballymena ran out easy 62-14 winners.
It was another enocuraging performance from the Eaton Park men on the back of the previous week’s narrow defeat at the hands of Ballynahinch.
The writing was on the wall as early as the fourth minute, when strong running by the back line put Sean Taylor in for the opening try.
McMaster missed the conversion, but was on target after another four minutes, when a strong run from debutant winger James Beattie, paved the way for a lineout which Ballymena won, and then drove over for a try.
Beattie figured again in the next try, when another twenty metre run opened things up for Sean Taylor, who went in for his second try, which McMaster failed to convert, making the score 19-0.
Two more tries were to come for the home side before the half time break, the first when Dave Shanahan was quicker than the Ards cover to react to a kick ahead.
He pounced on the ball under the nose of the defending winger for another unconverted try.
With the score at 24-0, and Ballymena coasting, a loose pass was intercepted by the Ards right wing who grounded the ball between the posts for a seven pointer.
James Beattie again figured in the last try of the half, making good ground, and when he was tackled the ball was moved left and a long pass from Sean Taylor put Tim Small in wide out. McMaster converted to make the score at the break 31-7.
The second half followed much the same pattern – Ballymena dominant and Ards working hard to stay in the game.
To their credit, they never stopped trying, but were generally outclassed in every department.
In the second half Tim Small, returning after a lengthy spell out through injury, took over at out half, and showed what a good player he is, putting Jordan Foster in with a twenty metre pass from a Ballymena scrum.
Not long after James Taggart was yellow carded, and when Ian Caldwell prevented an Ards try by tackling the Ards player who had hacked the ball to the Ballymena line, he was also yellow carded and the referee awarded a penalty try.
That gave Ards 14 points, but even though Ballymena were playing with 13 men that was as good as it got for them.
Pressure from the home team resulted in a penalty in front of the Ards posts, and while the opposition were still making up their minds, Shanahan took a quick tap and scored between the posts, Small converting.
A fine individual try by Tim Small followed, which Dave Shanahan failed to convert.
Not long after that Stephen Mulholland, also returning to the Ballymena colours, was yellow carded, so for a brief spell they were playing with 12 men.
Ards could still make no impression on the home defence, while Ballymena finished off with a converted Irwin try and a try by James Beattie, a fitting reward for a good afternoon’s work by his young player. Tim Small converted.
Director of Rugby Pete Mackenzie knows that next week’s encounter with Corinthians in the first AIL game will be an entirely different proposition.
However, he declared himself very satisfied with the performance of his players, particularly young James Beattie, and he was pleased to see Tim Small back in action and Stephen Mulholland playing so well.