In Ulster Bank League Division 1B today, Ballymena came from 12 points down to overhaul Old Wesley in very blustery conditions at Donnybrook and claim a hard-fought 21-15 win.
Meeting Ballymena for the first time in two years, Old Wesley got off to a strong start with a neat ‘show and go’ from Ian Cassidy seeing the scrum half and captain go over for a converted try.
Influential lock Iain McGann stretched over for an unconverted effort to make it 12-0, but the Braidmen reduced the arrears with a penalty try when Wesley infringed at an advancing lineout maul and their loosehead Martin Gately saw yellow.
Into the second period and with both sides looking lively in attack, Andy Graham’s men edged in front thanks to a try from number 8 Matthew Rea off a five-metre scrum. The lead changed hands again when Wesley winger Barry McLaughlin landed a penalty for 15-14, but Rea’s second touchdown of the afternoon, and fourth in as many games, steered the visitors to four more precious league points.
Ballymena remain in second place and right in the hunt for promotion at the halfway point of the season, with leaders St. Mary’s College just two points ahead of them.
St. Mary’s enjoyed their fifth win on the trot as they ran out 32-16 bonus point winners over bottom side Belfast Harlequins at Deramore Park.
The pacesetting Dubliners, who led 20-8 at the turnound, had tries from centre Marcus O’Driscoll and forwards Mark Fallon, Brian McGovern and Barry O’Flanagan. Out-half Sean Kearns pushed through the 100-point barrier for the season, contributing 12 points off the kicking tee for an overall tally of 101.
Harlequins notched a try and penalty goal in each half, winger Andrew McPhillips and flanker Matthew Fisher both touching down with Ulster ‘A’ centre Mark Best booting their two place-kicks.
In arguably the game of the day, third-placed Dublin University kept pace with the top two thanks to a tremendous 36-11 dismissal of Shannon at College Park.
The Limerick side arrived in the capital on the back of four straight victories, but the strong-running students taught them quite a lesson with a five tries-to-one beating, extending their own winning streak to seven matches in the process.
Trinity’s left winger Max McFarland was a class apart, running in a hat-trick of tries – including an early breakaway effort from 70 metres out. That score, adding to Brian du Toit’s initial try, had the hosts 14 points to the good.
Loosehead Eric O’Sullivan got in on the scoring act to make it 19-0, but Shannon dug their heels in and took advantage of a Trinity sin-binning, as an Ollie Lyons try and two Tadhg Bennett penalties reduced the margin to eight points.
The game was delicately poised now, Marcus Horan’s men becoming more and more competitive until Trinity stung them with a Jack McDermott penalty and McFarland’s bonus point score which was created by a cracking outside break from full-back Conor Kearns. A steal by openside du Toit, close to his own posts, then launched another thrilling counter which ended with McFarland dotting down for the final time.
In the day’s early kick-off, UL Bohemians came from 13-3 down to snatch a badly-needed 20-13 success against Buccaneers on the 4G pitch at the University of Limerick.
While the pitch was perfect, the weather conditions were awful with a strong wind and persistent rain. Bohs played with the aid of the breeze in the first half and they went in front thanks to a seventh minute penalty from out-half Rick McKenna.
The Buccaneers forwards enjoyed a number of dominant spells, however. When UL had a player in the sin-bin, the Pirates forced a close-in scrum which was brought down and a penalty try was awarded. Their South African number 10 Cameron Hertz converted.
It remained 7-3 at the interval and two more penalties by Hertz looked to have Buccs on their way to a first triumph in five league outings.
Crucially, Bohs hooker Phillip Dowling managed to respond with a try that replacement Robbie Bourke converted and then came a powerful last ten minutes from UL flanker and captain Ian Condell.
The determined openside nabbed the first of two tries five minutes from the end, and then as Buccaneers piled on the pressure, Condell made an interception and raced over from halfway to end his side’s two-match losing streak.