A strong first half showing set Ballynahinch up for a bonus point win over their Ulster rivals Dungannon on Saturday, with the result moving Derek Suffern’s men up to sixth in the AIB League Division 1B table.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, February 13
BALLYNAHINCH 35 DUNGANNON 11, Ballymacarn Park
Scorers: Ballynahinch: Tries: Aaron Ferris, Jonny Graham, James McCall, Michael Kirkwood, Stuart Lamb; Cons: Ryan Bambry 2; Pens: Ryan Bambry 2
Dungannon: Try: Craig Gilroy; Pen: James Shiells; Drop: James Shiells
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin and the province’s latest signing, New Zealander Xavier Rush, were interested spectators at Ballymacarn Park as Ballynahinch vaulted over Dungannon in the league standings with a superb bonus point win.
‘Hinch laid the foundations for this five-try success in the opening half, by the end of which they were 25-6 to the good.
Dungannon, looking to end a run of four successive defeats, took the lead in the second minute when out-half James Shiells landed a penalty.
Ballynahinch hit back almost immediately with a Ryan Bambry penalty, before ‘Hinch full-back Jonny Cullen failed a gather a high ball in the sixth minute, his opposite number John McGuckin snaffled possession and set up a drop goal for Shiells.
But that proved to be ‘Gannon’s last score until they mustered a try, seven minutes from the finish.
Derek Suffern’s home side began to boss things up front. Scrum half Harry McAleese set winger Aaron Ferris off on a blindside run and he linked with flanker Michael Graham before taking the return pass to score the game’s opening try.
In the 13th minute, McGuckin was penalised for not releasing on the deck and Bambry landed the resulting kick for a 11-6 home lead.
‘Gannon leaked two converted tries before half-time as the hosts took a firm grip on proceedings, showing glimpses of the form that saw them memorably win four trophies last season – two in Ulster and two of the All-Ireland variety.
The County Down outfit moved 18-6 ahead when lock Jonny Graham finished off a fine five-man move, which was by sparked by McAleese once again on the blindside, with New Zealander Bambry adding the conversion.
Flanker James McCall was the next player to cross the Dungannon whitewash, following up on a very good break by centre Stuart Morrow who brushed off two tacklers. Bambry’s conversion attempt was successful and the margin was out to 19 points as the sides turned around at half-time.
Seven minutes into the second period, ‘Hinch were celebrating their bonus point try. A quick turnover close to the Dungannon line and slick move out to the right led to winger Michael Kirkwood beating the cover and scoring an unconverted effort in the corner.
A fifth ‘Hinch touchdown followed, coming up to the hour mark, when they turned down a kickable penalty, set up a lineout maul and inspirational captain Stuart Lamb rumbled over from close range for a five-pointer.
Dungannon salvaged some pride with a superb consolation try. Danger man Craig Gilroy, who threatened throughout off limited possession on the right wing, hared through a gap and touched down from 30 metres out.
Shiells tried to drop kick the conversion but missed the target – summing up a day to forget for the visitors.
BALLYNAHINCH: Jonny Cullen; Michael Kirkwood, Stuart Morrow, David Nicholson, Aaron Ferris; Ryan Bambry, Harry McAleese; Chris Stevenson, David McGregor, Paddy McAllister, Jonny Graham, Robert Greer, Michael Graham, James McCall, Stuart Lamb (capt).
Replacements: David Harris, Greg Taylor, James Simpson, Brian Mannus, Lewis Johnston.
DUNGANNON: John McGuickin; Craig Gilroy, David Parkhill, Glen Telford, Conor Gaston; James Shiells, David Spence; Justin Fitzpatrick, Richard Carleton, Glen Sinnamon, Michael Rainey, Richard Holmes, Ali Birch, Stuart McKenzie (capt), Mark Farquhar.
Replacements: Colm Heaney, Curtis Stewart, Paul Heaney, Gareth McGonigle, Paul Magee.
Referee: Jonathan Peak (IRFU)