After cruising through the first half with three tries, AIB League Division 1B leaders Old Belvedere were put to the test in the second half by a rejuvenated Ballymena side but eventually held their nerve to run out 28-21 victors at Anglesea Road.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, October 31
OLD BELVEDERE 28 BALLYMENA 21, Anglesea Road
Scorers: Old Belvedere: Tries: Chris Keane, Mark Cooney, Fergus McFadden; Cons: Fergus McFadden 2; Pens: Fergus McFadden 3
Ballymena: Tries: Sam McKinney, Ross Hackney; Con: David O’Hara; Pens: David O’Hara 3
With only a seven-point lead coming into the final five minutes, Old Belvedere were given a quite a scare when Ballymena almost drove over in the corner.
However, Phil Werahiko’s men were allowed to breathe a sigh of relief when a Ballymena knock-on gave possession back to them and quelled any chances of a comeback.
Although Ballymena were first to enjoy some good rugby, Belvo could not have asked for a better start with a try under the posts from Leinster scrum half Chris Keane after two minutes.
That was quickly followed by a try from hooker Mark Cooney on the eight minute mark.
Belvo’s impressive back-line, spurred on by captain Andy Dunne and Leinster centre Fergus McFadden, put together some nice pieces of quick-running rugby while Ballymena opted to play a more tactical, kicking game.
Ballymena refused to buckle in the first half and they hauled themselves right back into the contest with a well-worked try from captain Sam McKinney and two fine penalties from scrum half David O’Hara.
However, an inspired Belvo pack managed to win back possession at a scrum just before half-time, setting up the platform for McFadden to score his side’s third try.
McFadden’s successful conversion put the score at 22-11 going into half-time.
Coming into the second half, the sides were greeted by heavy bouts of rain which turned the game into a bit of a slugfest. Mistakes came flooding into play and the wet conditions gave rise to multiple handling errors.
The visitors took full advantage of the difficult conditions when they put a pressurising kick deep into Belvo’s 22 which eventually led to a try scored by blindside flanker Ross Hackney.
Ballymena goalkicker O’Hara was in great form in front of the posts all day and his second half conversion and penalty ensured that his team were right back in the contest coming into the final quarter.
However, McFadden was once again instrumental in the second period finding unlikely gaps in the Ballymena defence and scoring all of Belvo’s second half points with two well-struck penalties.
Arguably, Ballymena will be disappointed that they did not come out of the match with a win, however they were always playing catch-up against a strong Belvo side.
After a lifeless stalemate last week against Young Munster, the Old Belvedere players were undoubtedly happy to get a home victory against tough opposition and extend their lead at the top of Division 1B to four points.