Ballymena are the new leaders in Ulster Bank League Division 1B after beating former front runners Galwegians 23-22 at a very wet Crowley Park this afternoon.
Ballymena picked up their fifth and most significant win of the season to date despite being outscored by four tries to two. In the end, an excellent injury-time penalty from replacement Tim Small, struck from the 10-metre line, split the sides.
Heavy rain at kick-off made for a tight first half, with the top of the table clash remaining scoreless until Ballymena centre Patrick James broke the deadlock with a 31st minute converted try.
Ritchie McMaster, who starting at out-half, added a penalty for the visitors before Galwegians replied on the stroke of half-time as tighthead prop Doron McHugh drove over from a lineout maul.
‘Wegians struck again soon after the restart as veteran full-back John ‘Luigi’ Cleary rose to claim his own up and under and his momentum took his clear of the Ballymena defence to score his first try of the season.
A second McMaster penalty was cancelled out by Brian McClearn’s 55th-minute try from another well-executed maul from the home pack. Suddenly, it was all Galwegians as left winger Colin Conroy intercepted a pass on his 10-metre line to race way and score a superb bonus point try with 61 minutes gone.
Cleary’s conversion put the westerners 22-13 clear. Credit to Ballymena, though, they showed impressive resilience to patiently work themselves back into scoring range. Their reward was a penalty try in the 78th minute and Small stepped up to deny ‘Wegians right at the death.
Dublin University’s resurgence continued as they came away from Dooradoyle with a famous 14-8 triumph over Garryowen.
Trinity are up to eighth in the table after stringing together wins over Malone and the Light Blues, with increasingly influential out-half Jack McDermott scoring 24 points in the two games.
McDermott landed three penalties in Limerick, the first of them giving Tony Smeeth’s youngsters a 3-0 interval lead in wet and windy conditions.
Garryowen lost lock Aaron McCloskey to the sin-bin and although their Kiwi back rower Josh Hrstich touched down to give the hosts a 5-3 buffer, they soon had scrum half Neill Cronin yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on.
It was nip and tuck all the way as an unconverted try from Trinity’s US Eagles winger Tim Maupin was followed by a Jamie Gavin penalty at the other end, levelling matters at 8-all.
The conditions proved favourable for the students at this stage, a strong wind backing McDermott as he notched two closing penalties to settle the issue. Garryowen remain in third place but are now eight points adrift of table toppers Ballymena.
Malone gained their second victory of the current league run with a 23-10 dismissal of UL Bohemians at Gibson Park.
The Cregagh Red Sox got back to winning ways, using the conditions to their advantage in the first half as wily scrum half John Creighton grabbed a brace of tries and centre Nathan Brown also touched down.
That opened up a considerable 20-point lead and although UL Bohs reached double figures with Ian Condell’s converted try and a Shane Airey penalty, Josh Pentland landed a lone second half penalty to steer Malone over the finish line.
Their head coach Jacques Benade will have been disappointed not to pick up a bonus point given their three-try salvo in the opening 40 minutes, but the result gives Malone a timely boost ahead of next week’s trip to unbeaten Ballymena.
Malone’s local rivals Belfast Harlequins prevailed on a 26-21 scoreline at Thomond Park as they got the better of an inconsistent Shannon side.
Talented Harlequins back Eamon Lane took his tally for the Ulster Bank League campaign to 46 points as he lobbed over four penalties and converted tries from lock Caleb Montgomery and winger Peter Dunlop.
Montgomery touched down in the 13th minute in response to an early David O’Donovan penalty, before Munster speedster Luke O’Dea went over out wide for the Limerick club with 21 minutes on the clock.
However, Lane answered back with a couple of well-struck penalties in the 24th and 37th minutes to see Adam Larkin’s men take a 13-8 advantage into the break, with Shannon guilty of some poor handling errors.
Lane was on target again in the 44th minute as the visitors began the second period in good fettle. Shannon were quick to respond, with the experienced O’Donovan landing his second successful penalty just two minutes later following a five-metre scrum.
‘Quins enjoyed a purple patch when Dunlop broke through for a 57th minute try which Lane converted. They hammered home their advantage with the latter’s final penalty goal on the hour mark to make it 26-11.
The Ulster outfit won in the end to lift themselves off the bottom of the Division 1B table, but Shannon produced a smart final quarter to muster a losing bonus point.
A Hugh Kelliher try in the 62nd minute cut the gap to ten points before the home side took advantage of a sin-binning to put hard-working captain John Shine over with seven minutes left.
Shannon now had serious momentum, yet ‘Quins dug deep to hold onto their five-point lead despite plenty of disruption late on. A few key injuries and a yellow card saw them finish the match with 14 men and two forwards in the back-line.
On Friday night, Corinthians scored two converted tries in the second half to overhaul Buccaneers and take a 14-10 Connacht derby win at Dubarry Park.
Corinthians put some indifferent form behind them, including their 30-7 home loss to Shannon, to secure a much-needed victory in the injury-enforced absence of captain James Buckley.
Buccaneers led 3-0 at the break despite playing poorly and not capitalising on two Corinthians yellow cards. After the second one for loosehead prop Mark Byrne, Alan Gaughan tapped over the resulting penalty.
However, the Pirates had a high error count and Corinthians were finally rewarded for their enterprise when, following a fine David Panter break, Connacht Eagles captain Eoghan Masterson drove over for a 49th minute try which Conor Murphy converted.
Further sustained endeavour by the visitors quickly yielded a second try just five minutes later with hooker Pat O’Toole getting over on the right. Murphy curled over the conversion for a 14-3 scoreline.
Try-scoring chances for Buccs went a-begging as tighthead Diarmuid Higgins fumbled from a loose Corinthians lineout and then from a promising attack, a final pass to waiting winger Eoghan O’Reilly lacked the necessary accuracy.
Martin Staunton was introduced and made an immediate impact, turning over possession on the left and within a minute the prop was finishing off the attack on the opposite flank for a 66th minute try.
Gaughan added a good conversion to reduce the arrears to 14-10 but Corinthians’ impressive defence prevented any further scores in a frantic finish. The result gives Pat Cunningham’s charges plenty of encouragement for next week’s derby clash with their city rivals Galwegians.