Ballymena opened their Ulster Championship League campaign at Eaton Park against Ballynahinch and emerged deserved 31-26 winners.
It was the most demanding game of the fixture list for Andy Graham’s side, against Division 1A opposition, but they soon made their intentions clear moving the ball straight from the Ballynahinch kick off.
Ballymena’s enterprise was rewarded early with a penalty, converted by out half Richie McMaster.
Ballymena made the first decisive thrust after 20 minutes with a Roger McBurney break in mid field. He carved open the defence and finished off with a beautifully timed pass to Callum Patterson who dotted down for a try, converted by McMaster, opening up a ten point lead.
That lead was reduced by the ‘Hinch right wing, Chris Quinn, who kicked the first of his four penalties and before half time he had kicked two more penalties to leave his side trailing by only a single point at the break, 10-9.
Shortly after the resumption ‘Hinch were awarded a scrum and moved the ball left into mid field. A crunching tackle by scrum half Jonny Creighton, a new signing from Malone, forced the centre to spill the ball and quickest to react was Patterson, who gathered the bouncing ball and raced in for his second try of the day. McMaster again converted to make the score 17-9.
Chris Quinn, who had a 100% record with the boot, kicked another penalty to reduce the lead to five points at 17-12. Ballymena scored two further tries, capitalising on poor handling by ‘Hinch. The first of these was again by Patterson after a tackle by Matthew Harkness made Hinch cough up the ball. Patterson hacked through, gathered the ball and scored between the posts, leaving McMaster and easy conversion, which opened up a 24-12 lead, halfway through the second half. David Whann added the fourth try, taking an off load from another new signing Paddy Magowan, and outpacing the defence for another try at the posts and another easy conversion for McMaster.
Ballynahinch showed they were not finished by running in two tries, both of which were converted by Quinn. However, the second of the two tries was scored in the third minute of injury time, which made the score look tighter than it was.
Coach Andy Graham was delighted with his team’s performance, and now has two week to get his team prepared for the first All Ireland League encounter on 12th September against Harlequins at Eaton Park.