William Leacock’s debut as Malone head coach ended in defeat as two late tries catapulted Ballynahinch to a hard-fought 29-17 win in yesterday’s Energia Community Series opener at Gibson Park.
Rhys O’Donnell and Conor Phillips both touched down during the closing stages to decide this tightly-contested Ulster Conference 1 fixture, after Malone had been leading 17-10.
It was two tries apiece at half-time, the Cregagh Red Sox establishing a 14-10 lead through Dave Cave and David McMaster scores and pushing seven clear with a well-struck penalty goal.
However, the ever-dangerous Ross Adair increased his influence with a well-taken levelling try, having created up ‘Hinch’s opener which saw Aaron Cairns speed away from 50 metres out.
Two costly second-half yellow cards really hurt Malone’s chances and their Co. Down opponents were able to push on and clinch the full five points, with fast-breaking scrum half O’Donnell’s superb solo try setting them up for a big finish.
Out-half Ritchie McMaster’s assured place-kicking, combined with an early try from teenage talent Conor McKee, set Queen’s University on their way to a hard-earned 23-14 triumph over Banbridge.
McMaster finished with 10 points from the tee, winger Jonny Hunter scored the students’ other try from a kick chase, and David Humphreys’ young son James, who has joined Queen’s from the Gloucester Academy, came off the bench to kick a late match-winning penalty.
Jude Postlethwaite, a former Ireland Under-18 Sevens international like McKee, scored a try on his debut for Bann. The young centre showed some fine early-season form, also providing the offload to set up Josh Cromie’s earlier try.
City of Armagh produced the performance of the round as they hammered Rainey Old Boys 63-14 to go straight to the top of the Conference 1 standings, while the second tier table is headed up by Belfast Harlequins who ensured a successful start for new head coach Neil Doak at Deramore Park.
Armagh out-half Cormac Fox starred with a 28-point haul, made up of two tries and all nine conversions. Their other tries were run in by Shea O’Brien (2), Robert Whitten (2), Matthew Hooks, captain Tim McNeice and Alex Johnston.
Armagh’s new head coach Chris Parker commented afterwards: “Against a very good Rainey side, I was pleased with our work-rate and cohesiveness. Some elements of our performance still need improving and we will address these at training this week.”
Bangor’s pack provided plenty of problems for Harlequins, particularly at scrum time, but the hosts gradually got a grip on the game. Out-half Paul Kerr starred with a 21-point haul, which included two tries, four conversions and a penalty. Chris Larmour and Malcolm Corry also claimed tries.
Andy Hughes’ Dungannon laid the foundations for a 40-19 victory at Ballymena with a four-try first half salvo. Lewis McCrabbe reached over from a lineout maul to bag the bonus point, adding to earlier scores from John Russell, David Leyburn and Adam Milligan. Stephen Todd and Matthew Montgomery made it six tries in all.
ENERGIA COMMUNITY SERIES – FIRST ROUND RESULTS:
ULSTER CONFERENCE 1:
City of Armagh 63 Rainey Old Boys 14, Palace Grounds
Malone 17 Ballynahinch 29, Gibson Park
Queen’s University 23 Banbridge 14, Dub Lane
ULSTER CONFERENCE 2:
Ballymena 19 Dungannon 40, Eaton Park
Belfast Harlequins 31 Bangor 0, Deramore Park
Omagh Academicals v City of Derry, Thomas Mellon Playing Fields (match cancelled – two points to both teams)