Ballymena Rugby Club First XV resumed their Ulster Champions League campaign with a 10-10 draw at Malone on Saturday.
The Ulster Champions league has this season been split into two sections of five teams, so that Ballymena have only four games to play, dotted throughout the season.
Saturday’s draw in Belfast ensured that Ballymena remain unbeaten in their section and coach Andy Graham declared himself reasonably happy with a draw against a determined opposition which, with only 15 minutes to go, had a ten point advantage.
Ballymena started brightly enough and missed a couple of scoring chances, while the closest Malone came to crossing the line came when their prop intercepted a pass into a crowded midfield and set off at a gallop towards the line, only to be hauled down by Richie McMaster just metres short.
The game remained scoreless at half time and it took a poor decision by the Ballymena right wing who decided to run the ball out of defence metres from his own line and was caught in possession by Malone to break the deadlock. It took a couple of phases but they eventually drove across the Ballymena line for a try and a conversion.
Not long afterwards it became a ten point lead when the referee yellow-carded Connor Smyth and Malone kicking the penalty that resulted.
In the second half the introduction of Rodger McBurney into the fray had a tremendous impact on Ballymena’s fortunes and inevitably he was on the end of a superb move to finish off with a try which Kieran Joyce converted to make the score 10-7.
By this stage the conditions overhead and underfoot had deteriorated and made constructive rugby extremely difficult, but it was Ballymena who made most of the running in the latter stages of the game. Their efforts were rewarded with a penalty which Joyce converted to make the score ten points each.
Andy Graham was pleased with the performance of his reshuffled side but will be glad to get back to the serious business of the All Ireland League on Saturday, when Ballymena entertain Buccaneers in the twelfth game of the campaign.
Having defeated Qualifying One team, Ballyclare, in the first round of the Powerade Towns Cup, Ballymena might have looked forward to a good cup run, but they bowed out of the competition after a 10-3 defeat at Bangor. Playing with the wind in the first half they were restricted to a single penalty which was never going to be enough. But Coach Gareth Fisher had nothing but praise for his team who gave their all.