Ballymena Rugby Club made a spectacular start to 2016 with a crushing 48-0 All-Ireland League win over Old Wesley on Saturday.
Andy Graham’s side put the disappointment of their Ulster Senior Cup final defeat by Ballynahinch in their previous outing firmly behind them as they kept their AIL promotion hopes firmly intact at Eaton Park.
In a comprehensive display of attacking rugby and impenetrable defence, Ballymena totally outplayed their Dublin opponents and the score line reflects their complete dominance.
Played on a soft pitch but in a rare spell of dry weather, Old Wesley were on the back foot right from the start as Ballymena had the better of the opening exchanges.
Indeed the home side was on the score sheet after just five minutes when, not for the last time in the game, Wesley coughed up possession in midfield and Ballymena counter attacked.
The ball was moved left to Jonny Rosborough who beat his opposite number but was brought down by the cover defence.
The support was quickly there to recycle the ball and the movement ended when a clever pass from Marty Irwin put Callum Patterson into space on the right. He stepped inside the now disorganised defence for a great try converted by Andrew Magrath.
Soon after the restart a break by Wesley out half Alan Large looked promising but it came to naught and it was his opposite number McGrath who extended the lead with a penalty goal.
For the rest of the first half Ballymena monopolised possession and continued to look dangerous, regularly breaking the Wesley defence. By contrast Old Wesley seemed to be running up against a brick wall on the rare occasion they had possession.
The pressure eventually told when winger James Beattie crossed for Ballymena’s second try and it was now starting to go pear shaped for the visitors.
A fine break by David Shanahan came up just short of the Wesley goal line but flanker Clive Ross was on hand to score from the quick ruck ball. Then just before half time Beattie crossed for his second and Ballymena’s fourth try. By half time the lead was 29-0 and the try bonus point had already been secured.
Wesley started the second half with a little more gusto with Large and Captain Ian Cassidy taking on the opposition, but they failed to capitalise with any scores.
Again in the face of some ferocious tackling, Wesley lost possession in the Ballymena 22 and a long run by Rodger McBurney resulted in a penalty try when John Andrew was pulled down following his kick into the in goal area.
Wesley responded and gained some good attacking positions inside the Ballymena 22 and Rory Stynes eventually crossed the Ballymena line but the ball was held up.
There was a glimpse of hope for Wesley when Magrath was shown a yellow card for a ruck infringement, but even down to 14 men the defence held firm, rubbing salt into the wound with a John Andrew try from a lineout drive during the same period.
In the closing stages Old Wesley were awarded a number of kickable penalties but with no hope of winning they kicked to touch or ran the ball but once again they were unable to cross the whitewash.
With the last play of the game Ballymena opted to run a penalty and following a barnstorming rub by prop Ross Kane almost to the Wesley line, James Gallagher picked up and drove over for the seventh try of the match.
Ballymena continue their promotion push when they travel to UL Bohemian this Saturday.
* Ballymena Seconds had a great win in the first round of the Towns Cup, beating Ballyclare by 31 points to 8.