10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
BALLYMENA 3 GARRYOWEN 26, Eaton Park
Scorers: Ballymena: Pen: Donovan Raw
Garryowen: Tries: Lorcan Bourke, Ciaran O'Boyle, Paul Neville, Conor Kilroy; Pens: Conor Kilroy 2
In the first league match of the Dara O'Sullivan-Greig Oliver regime, Garryowen dominated up front to lay the platform for the club's 11th win in 16 league meetings with Ballymena.
They hit the front in the sixth-minute when former Old Crescent winger Lorcan Bourke charged over for a well-taken try.
Full-back Conor Kilroy missed the conversion but he did swap penalties with new Ballymena out-half Donovan Raw, with the latter's kick proving to be the home side's only score of the match.
Backed by the wind and playing smart possession rugby, Garryowen moved 13-3 ahead before the break when AIB Club international winger Ciaran O'Boyle beat the cover defence to score out wide.
Two more unconverted tries put the seal of Garryowen's win in the second half. On 55 minutes, the visitors' flanker and captain Paul Neville crashed over for a deserved try.
The score was really initiated by centre Conan Doyle who switched in to number 10 to chip a lovely kick to the far corner. Garryowen put pressure on at the lineout, came up with the ball and following two muscular mauls, Neville made the line.
Ten minutes from the finish, Garryowen's lead was moved to 20 points when some neat passing amongst the backs, with Doyle and Argentinian centre Federico Quaglia prominent, led to the supporting Kilroy nipping in at the corner for a try.
Kilroy tagged on a late penalty to round off the scoring and a relatively unproblematic trip north for Garryowen, who only have one league visit to Ulster on their itinerary this season.
Speaking afterwards, Garryowen coach O'Sullivan said: "We lost in the Munster Senior Cup last week and it certainly focused us for this game. It was vital that we got a good start and once we achieved that, we were in the driving seat.
"As champions we were up there to be shot at but we worked hard in the close season and winning in Ballymena will do wonders for our confidence so early in the season."
Best on the afternoon for Ballymena were Raw, lock Ian Caldwell and Ulster flanker Neil McMillan, who was watched by his Ulster team-mates Bryan Young and Matt McCullough as well as outgoing IRB chairman Dr. Syd Millar, a proud Ballymena man.
CORK CONSTITUTION 18 BLACKROCK COLLEGE 5, Temple Hill
Scorers: Cork Constitution: Tries: Tom Gleeson, John Stringer; Con: Jeremy Manning; Pen: Jeremy Manning; Drop: Jeremy Manning
Blackrock: Try: Fionn Carr
Shane Byrne's first AIB League match since 2001 ended in defeat as his Blackrock College side were overrun by Cork Constitution in a scrappy contest at Temple Hill.
Constitution made it 11 wins in 13 league clashes with 'Rock as second half tries from centre Tom Gleeson and scrum half John Stringer, as well as an 8-point kicking contribution from new number 10 Jeremy Manning, proved crucial.
Last season's top scorer in Division One, Leinster "A" player Fionn Carr got over for an intercept try for 'Rock in the eighth-minute to give the visitors hope of a long-awaited win over the Leesiders.
Surprisingly, 5-0 is how it stayed up until half-time as defences remained on top and a number of errors blighted what was a tight game, with 'Rock's new captain Des Dillon, Byrne and Paul Graham seeking to gain an advantage for their side up front.
Munster out-half Manning, who transferred from UCC during the summer, then helped turn the game in Con's favour as he made an excellent break and spun a precise long pass out for Gleeson to collect and score out wide.
Manning missed the conversion but he did add the extras to Stringer's 51st-minute try for a 12-5 Con lead. Stringer's try was a well-taken individual effort as he blocked down an attempted chip ahead from Blackrock's experienced out-half Emmet Farrell and ball popped up nicely for the Con number 9 to race away and touch down.
With 'Rock's attacking options limited against a suffocating Con defence, Manning put the seal on the home win with a 69th-minute penalty and a neat drop goal just minutes from the final whistle.
Despite the defeat, the Dubliners showed enough to suggest that they might be able to get a decent run together and challenge for a play-off spot, particularly if their experienced players can gel with underage stars like Shane Monahan, Kyle Tonetti and Paul Ryan.
Con coach Brian Walsh told reporters: "It was a poor game, probably driven by the fact that nobody wanted to lose their first league match of the season.
"Both sides looked rusty and there was little flow to the game. I don't think either side hugely threatened, but at least it was good to be able to put the scores on the board when it counted.
"I think we were comfortable at 15-5 but only felt totally safe with that last score," he added.