Galwegians have moved seven points clear at the top of Ulster Bank League Division 1B following an excellent 34-25 bonus point win at home to Malone.
Galwegians handed over top spot when losing to chief rivals Ballymena a fortnight ago, but since then they have strung together two victories whereas the Braidmen have faltered.
The Crowley Park crowd certainly got value for money as ‘Wegians ran in six tries and Malone responded with three in a hugely entertaining round 7 encounter.
The home backs clicked into the gear in the eighth minute with a slick handling move releasing young full-back Ciaran Gaffney for a try which Conor Lowndes converted.
Malone had barely restarted when a brilliant burst of pace from right winger Colin Conroy, straight from his own half, took him clear for a quick-fire second touchdown.
The in-form visitors, who had risen to fourth in the table, hit back with a 12th minute try from prop Ross Kane who profited from a well-executed lineout maul.
‘Wegians continued to dictate, though, and they should have stretched their lead when Conroy was called back for a forward pass and fellow winger Lowndes missed a penalty.
A Josh Pentland penalty brought Malone closer at 12-8, but the home side took control again in the lead up to half-time. Lowndes crossed the whitewash in the 29th minute after a Gaffney garryowen and neat offload from lock Marty Cummins.
Galwegians captain Ja Naughton then rumbled over for the bonus point try and a 22-8 lead on the stroke of half-time, although Malone were much improved after Jacques Benade’s team talk.
The Belfast outfit came out firing as winger Adam Liddell showed impressive finishing skills to run in two tries out wide in the 42nd and 48th minutes. Centre Pentland increased his own contribution with two well-taken conversions.
Suddenly, it was all-square and as Malone continued to prosper from their increasing share of possession, their Ulster Under-20 out-half Josh Bingham nudged them ahead with a 54th minute drop goal.
However, Matt Brown’s Galwegians side stunned Malone with two lightning quick tries around the 65-minute mark. Lowndes completed his brace by scoring in the corner for 25-23 and then replacement Matt Dever (pictured above) ran in a cracking intercept effort which Gaffney converted.
As expected, Malone came with a late rally as they tried desperately to score another try, which could have given them two bonus points to take back home, but the ‘Wegians defence defiantly kept them at bay.
Meanwhile, Ireland Under-20 and Munster Academy winger Alex Wootton was the star of the show for Garryowen as his hat-trick of tries helped them to overcome Ballymena 32-24 at Dooradoyle.
Garryowen led 17-3 at the break and managed to hang on despite Ballymena scoring two late tries, one of which was a penalty try. The result also saw the sides swap places in the table with the Light Blues now sitting in second place.
Place-kickers Jamie Gavin and Tim Small exchanged early penalties and while Gavin missed his second attempt at goal, a splendid bit of work by Munster’s Barry O’Mahony earned him a try and a 10-3 lead for the hosts.
They increased their advantage when a delightful grubber kick by Ronan O’Mahony saw the speedy Wootton win the race to the touchdown and Gavin’s conversion, which went over off an upright, widened the margin to 14 points.
The second half was only six minutes’ old when Wootton crossed again. Gavin converted and he dropped a goal in the 52nd minute to make it 27-3.
Inside centre Martin Irwin grabbed a try for Ballymena to spark something of a comeback, before Wootton ran in his third score of the afternoon with 17 minutes remaining.
The Braidmen kept battling and a Garryowen yellow card gave them some impetus in the final quarter. Ulster’s Mike McComish crashed over and the aforementioned penalty try, with five minutes left, gave Andy Graham’s side a shot at a late losing bonus point.
Tim Small (2) and replacement Ritchie McMaster converted all of the visitors’ tries, but the latter missed a last-gasp 40-metre penalty for Ballymena who will look to bounce back when they entertain Shannon next Saturday.
Elsewhere, Corinthians bagged their second try-scoring bonus point of the season when beating Belfast Harlequins 26-15 at Corinthian Park.
Pat Cunningham’s side put their derby loss to Galwegians behind them thanks to tries from captain Joey Merrigan, Conor Murphy, Darin Claasen and industrious number 8 Eoghan Masterson, who took his tally for the campaign to three.
Buccaneers staged a gutsy second half fight-back to draw 20-all with Dublin University at Dubarry Park and jump one place up to fourth in the standings.
Trinity were on course for their fourth straight victory when leading 17-5 at the break, with flanker Brian du Toit touching down for the third time in recent weeks and winger Killian O’Leary also nabbing a try.
However, the Pirates recovered well and bossed most of the second half. Tries from Garreth Halligan and Jacob Walshe were added to by fellow front rower Shane Delahunt, the recent Connacht debutant.
Ross Keller, another influential reserve for Buccs, kicked a conversion and penalty with Jack McDermott landing a single penalty for the visitors over the closing 40 minutes.