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Ballymena And UCD Share The Spoils

Ballymena And UCD Share The Spoils

Ballymena lost their grip on a half-time lead as they fought out an 11-11 draw with UCD on a fine November afternoon at Eaton Park.

Recent Ulster signing Callum Black made his debut for Ballymena, needing and indeed wanting some much required game-time after injury.

One would have been forgiven for thinking that with the youthful home team and the students from Dublin, along with the sunny conditions, a display of fast flowing rugby and a high scoring game was expected.

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That was the case last year where UCD ran out winners in a 70-point encounter, but this was a much tighter affair.

Ballymena started well with some early pressure and were awarded a scrum deep in the UCD half. A good drive on a second scrum lead to a second minute penalty which just drifted wide of the post.

Both teams were defending well with their opponents being prevented from breaking the gain-line, and much of the play in the middle of the pitch.

UCD won a penalty after 14 minutes which out-half Niall Earls converted to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.

Despite going behind Ballymena continued to have the edge in a number of areas including the scrum, winning a 24th minute penalty from which winger John Semple rewarded them with an excellent line kick, gaining upwards of 50 metres.

The resulting lineout was turned over, indicating that indeed there was little between the two sides. Ballymena won another penalty on the half hour mark which Semple kicked to draw them level at 3-3.

UCD responded and a few minutes later won another penalty out wide which they elected to kick for goal. However, Earls was just short of the posts this time, and the Braidmen successfully cleared.

With some very good line-kicking, Semple continued to keep UCD pegged back in their half and Ballymena won a 37th minute penalty which Semple converted to give his side a deserved 6-3 half-time lead.

Ballymena boss John Andrews made some changes in the front row for the second period with James Carson and Jonathan Burns coming into the game.

They started well, continuing to put pressure on the UCD scrum, and Burns and the ever-present Andrew Kerr showed up well in the loose with some barnstorming runs.

This spell of play was followed by some good running from the home back-line and winger Caolan Fitzpatrick used his pace in making a good break which led to lineout 15 metres from the UCD line.

Ballymena won the ball and from a powerful 49th minute maul, they drove over to score the opening try of the game through flanker Paul Pritchard. The conversion was just short.

UCD won a penalty after 60 minutes which went wide of the post. This was followed with more pressure from the visitors as they continued to come back at Ballymena.

They won two more penalties which they sent down the line and tried a set move. But Ballymena defended well and won a penalty which they kicked to the halfway line.

The Belfield outfit continued to carry the fight and won a 68th minute penalty which was missed. Minutes later they were awarded another and the reintroduced Earls successfully kicked it to close the gap to 11-6.

The students' angled running and clever attacking play almost saw them get over for a 77th minute try, but replacement Alan Smyth denied them with an excellent cover tackle.

UCD bounced back from that setback to grab an equalising 80th minute try in the corner through winger Tom Fletcher. They could have won the game with the conversion but Earls was off target from a difficult angle.

Referee: Trevor Collins (IRFU)