Division 1A strugglers Ballynahinch threw off the shackles at a windswept Ballymacarn Park to claim their very first win of the league run – a deserved 25-13 triumph over defending champions Lansdowne.
Ballynahinch had the privilege of hosting Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss and forwards coach Allen Clarke who were present to watch the contracted and development players turning out in this crucial Ulster Bank League match.
Lansdowne won the toss and chose to play with the powerful wind towards the clubhouse in the first half and straight away they put 'Hinch deep into their own 22. With the conditions so difficult, kicking into the wind was never an option, so it became a hard slog of a game, mainly played between the forwards.
Many watching this weather-beaten encounter knew that the wind advantage had to be used to its maximum benefit while you had it and by the 12th minute, Lansdowne captain Scott Deasy had potted two penalties for a 6-0 lead.
The battle between the forwards continued back and forth, with the County Down outfit acquitting themselves admirably against the visitors. What was most notable was 'Hinch's game management as they avoided giving Lansdowne any advantage with the penalty count remaining very low.
Ballynahinch's front row trio of Craig Trenier, Jonathan Murphy and Jonny Simpson, playing a particularly dominant game, provided the engine to an excellent drive downfield on 38 minutes.
Their efforts were supplemented by excellent support play from James Simpson and Ulster's Peter Browne, finally linking with Trenier who crashed over for the hosts' opening try. The wind conditions meant that Chris Quinn had a particularly difficult conversion attempt. He pushed his kick hard into the wind, but it fell short to leave Lansdowne 6-5 ahead at the interval.
With the gale force winds at their back, Derek Suffern's charges started the second period at pace, attacking deep into the Lansdowne 22 and eventually forcing a penalty which Quinn deftly pushed out into the wind, letting Storm Desmond do the rest of the work to add another three points to 'Hinch's tally – 8-6.
'Hinch continued to use the the wind to their advantage and James McBriar's high floating ball became the play of choice in the conditions, constantly testing the visitors' back-three, with the pressure coming from the centre partnership of Richard Reaney and Robin Harte.
On the hour mark, with Lansdowne penalised and 'Hinch opting for a lineout in the visitors' 22, the ball was moved through several sets of hands and recycled several times to see tighthead Simpson make it over the line past an ever tiring Lansdowne defence. Quinn added the extras for a 15-6 scoreline.
Quinn was assured with the boot again on on 65 minutes. Now he had the wind conditions sussed, the goal-kicking winger tagged on another three points to the Ulstermen's total.
This period saw referee Leo Colgan have to work very hard as conditions deteriorated and infringements and poor play saw him award some 20 penalties in a similar amount of minutes. On 71 minutes, Ireland Under-19 international Max Deegan, playing in the back row, scrambled across the line near the 'Hinch posts after a period of sustained pressure from Lansdowne. Deasy's conversion made it 18-13 with just 10 minutes to play.
The pressure started to get to Ballynahinch as they defended their lead against desperate attacks from the Lansdowne backs in the final few minutes, but the heavily penalised defence, down to 13 men as Lorcan Dow and James Simpson both saw yellow, held firm and allowed the Suffern's men to go back on the attack.
With a penalty awarded to the home side, the ball was kicked to touch for the lineout. The resulting maul worked its way towards the try-line and Ulster scrum half Paul Rowley darted over for Ballynahinch's clinching third try. Quinn beautifully judged his kick into the wind and the prevailing conditions saw the ball split the posts.
Despite their bonus point push falling short late on, this was a huge result for 'Hinch as they look to revive their league campaign and avoid relegation. They have the defence of their Ulster Senior Cup crown coming up against Ballymena on Thursday, December 17, before their rematch with Lansdowne down in Dublin on Saturday, January 2.
Referee: Leo Colgan (IRFU)