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Ballynahinch Go Top After UCD Draw

Ballynahinch Go Top After UCD Draw

With Ballymena losing to Belfast Harlequins on Friday, Derek Suffern’s Ballynahinch side had an ideal chance to reclaim top spot in Ulster Bank League Division 1B but defensive errors and poor discipline cost them a home victory against UCD.

Playing with a wind advantage in the first half, UCD raced into an early lead when out-half Niall Earls converted two penalty goals in the 2nd and 4th minutes.

Ballynahinch responded with a try in the ninth minute from full-back David Nicholson, after the hosts had worked a number of phases to put Nicholson clear, and with a man outside he dummied and crossed for a well-taken score.

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UCD wasted no time in hitting back, their lively half-backs Earls and Peter du Toit creating the opening after the restart with du Toit crossing to the left the posts for an unconverted try.

11-5 down, 'Hinch battled hard to hold onto the ball and dominated the scrums taking strikes against the head on several occasions.

In the 33rd minute UCD number 8 Richie Bent did well to clear from the back of a retreating scrum to send du Toit into space down the blindside.

As Hinch out-half James Lash attempted to make a tackle, he lost his footing and a gap opened with winger Sam Coghlan Murray collecting the wide pass to sprint into the right corner for his side's second try. Earls impressively added the extras from the touchline.

In the final minute of the half poor discipline again cost 'Hinch points as Earls landed a long range penalty goal to leave his side with a comfortable 21-5 advantage at the interval.

Now playing with the wind at their backs, 'Hinch turned down a couple of kickable penalties early in the second half as they opted to set up catch and drives in the corners.

But the well-organised students' defence held firm and 'Hinch missed two opportunities to score in the 52nd and 53rd minutes.

Their number 8 Jonny Graham first dropped the ball with the whitewash at his mercy after a neat offload from Lash had put him clear just a few metres short of the line.

From the resulting scrum 'Hinch took it against the head but flanker Jonny Madden broke off the scrum early and was pinged for crossing in front of Graham blocking du Toit as the big 'Hinch number 8 attacked the line.

Lash eventually increased the 'Hinch tally to eight points after he converted a penalty goal in the 54th minute.

Play at this stage was all Ballynahinch and in the 56th minute sustained pressure from the County Down outfit created room for centre Stuart Morrow to cross in the right corner for the second home try which went unconverted.

UCD managed to hold onto the ball for the next ten minutes but a great kick from 'Hinch scrum half Harry McAleese rolled into the visitors' 22 and hit the corner flag, keeping the students deep in their 22.

In the 70th minute 'Hinch attacked again and as Lash attempted a wide pass in front of the UCD posts, it was deliberately knocked on giving the Kiwi an easy opportunity to convert and close the gap to 21-16.

In the final minutes it was all pressure from the home side as they attempted to force a winning try. After a long period camped in the UCD 22, the ball was moved right and with just three minutes remaining.

Centre James Thompson did well for force his way over in the right corner and Ballymacarn Park held its breath as Lash attempted the touchline conversion. His effort narrowly missed the right hand upright, leaving the sides tied at 21-21.

The draw was enough to move Ballynahinch back to the top of the Division 1B table, ahead of next weekend's tricky trip to Annacotty to face UL Bohemians.

Referee: Eddie Hogan O'Connell (IRFU)