Braidmen well in promotion hunt in All-Ireland League

Matthew Rea scored two tries in Ballymena's weekend All-Ireland League victory at Old Wesley.
Matthew Rea scored two tries in Ballymena's weekend All-Ireland League victory at Old Wesley.

Ballymena Rugby Club reached the midway point in the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League by notching their eighth win in nine outings.

Andy Graham’s side remain handily placed in second position in the table, two points behind St. Mary’s, after a 21-15 success over Old Wesley in Dublin.

On the all-weather surface at Donnybrook and took first half advantage of the stiff breeze blowing almost straight down the pitch. An early piece of enterprise by centres Irwin and Patterson seemed to have resulted in a try for McBurney, but the referee decided that the last pass was forward and called them back for a scrum.

It was Wesley who got the first points on the board after the initial exchanges, when a series of pick and drives by the pack opened the way for scrum half Cassidy to cross for a try, converted by McLaughlin.

The power of the Ballymena pack, particularly in the scrums where once again they were totally dominant, set up some promising positions but the Wesley defence held firm, and it was the home side that scored next, with second row forward McGann finishing off a move for an unconverted try. With a 12 point lead, Wesley could feel confident about their second half prospects, but their pack once again failed to halt a Ballymena drive from a lineout, and when prop Gately got himself on the wrong side of the maul and pulled it down, the referee had no other option than to award a penalty try, yellow carding Gately for good measure.

Despite a surge from Wesley just before the break, the Ballymena defence held firm and they went into the break 12-7 behind, but facing that strong breeze in the second half.

The breeze made little difference to the Ballymena forwards who continued to overpower their Dublin opponents in scrum and maul, and with their lineout functioning well, they were able to deny Wesley useful possession. Ten minutes into the half the pack once again set up a series of drives which Wesley could not contain, the upshot being a penalty to Ballymena five metres from the line.

They opted for a scrum and Matthew Rea picked up and drove over for a try which McMaster converted to give his side the lead for the first time in the game at 14-12.

Wesley briefly regained the lead with a McLaughlin penalty, but it didn’t take long for the pack once again to set the decisive try. It nearly came when Jordan Foster was tackled close to the line, but when the ball was recycled and moved left, it was Connor Smyth who made the vital few yards which gave Rea the chance to power over for his second try of the game. McGrath, replacing McMaster at no. 10, kicked the conversion for a 21-15 lead, which is how it stayed despite a late flurry from Wesley.

After the Christmas break, the fixture list is reversed and Ballymena’s next game on 2nd January will be against Old Wesley at Eaton Park. Saturday 12th December is a blank day for the 1st XV who are next in action on Thursday 17th December (7:30 pm kick off) against Ballynahinch at the Kingspan Stadium in the final of the First Trust Senior Cup.