Division 1B leaders Ballynahinch managed to just hang on to claim a tight victory over a resurgent Blackrock College at Shaw’s Bridge in what was a game dominated by yellow cards.
This fixture was played at Shaw's Bridge due to the fact that Ballymacarn Park had not recovered sufficiently from the recent heavy snow and it was the County Down men who made the better start.
Ballynahinch dominated the opening 10 minutes as they attacked through James Thompson, Stuart Morrow and Aaron Ferris, but with the try-line at their mercy on several occasions the chance to score was missed.
Early scrums went the way of the 'Hinch pack with powerful scrummaging by Kyle McCall and Conor Carey putting the Dubliners under big pressure.
With the visiting scrum in reverse, the Ulster side took full advantage by taking the next two scrums against the head in the 16th minute.
The breakthrough came two minutes later when referee Kevin Beggs awarded a penalty try after Michael Graham was impeded as he picked up as the scrum crossed the 'Rock whitewash. Michael Lawton added the extras.
As the game entered the second quarter, Blackrock took control and prevented 'Hinch from getting their hands on the ball.
'Hinch infringed at a lineout in 21st minute. Full-back Peter Brougham did not have the range with the boot, but he was successful with a second penalty attempt in 25th minute when 'Hinch prop Carey was yellow carded for knocking the ball out of scrum half David Rowan's hands on the edge of the 'Hinch 22.
As 'Rock continued to pressurise the hosts, a second yellow carded was flashed in the 34th minute as 'Hinch second row Chris Napier was sent to the sin-bin.
'Rock had driven play deep into the 'Hinch 22 but with their forward support running thin, the ball became exposed at the back of a ruck. Napier looked to have come through the middle and picked it up legitimately, however referee Beggs saw otherwise and flashed a yellow card.
Brougham made it 7-6 with his second penalty goal in the 38th minute after the home side were pinged from not releasing the player in a tackle.
In the final minute of the first half Ballynahinch finished much stronger with Ferris and Simpson carrying the ball well and eventually winning a penalty, which Lawton converted to make it 10-6 at the interval.
'Hinch made a lively start to the second half and scored their second try in the 49th minute when Napier barged his way over after a period of good continuity play started by a penetrating run by Lawton.
Lawton was injured during this attack, so scrum half Blane McIlroy took over the kicking duties and he added the extras to take 'Hinch 17-6 clear.
A third Brougham penalty made it 17-9 in the 57th minute when 'Hinch once again failed to release the player in the tackle.
In the 64th minute a McIlroy penalty increased the 'Hinch tally to 20 points as they looked to have done enough to close out the contest, but with two minutes remaining Gavin Armstrong was yellow carded for entering a ruck from the side.
Blackrock made the most of their extra man, sending winger Tom Kevany clear to cross just to the right of the posts. Brougham added the extras to bring the visitors right back into the contest.
Injury time was nail-biting for the home support as the Dubliners besieged the 'Hinch line in search of a dramatic winning score.
In every play 'Hinch seemed to be conceding penalties, and then a fourth yellow card was shown, this time full-back Rodger McBurney was the player singled out.
Now down to 13 men, Ballynahinch dug in and managed to turn the ball over thanks to great work from prop McCall and out-half Harry McAleese.
'Hinch eventually won a penalty and McIlroy checked with the referee that it was the final play before he dispatched the ball into touch to bring this hard-fought contest to a close.
'Hinch were lucky to survive this one and afterwards their head coach Derek Suffern said: “We needed four points from that game and we are absolutely delighted to come away with the result against a very, very good Blackrock side.
“At the start of the year they struggled but now they are fifth in the table and on the way up. They are now a lot fitter and were the most physical side we have played against all year.”
He added: “I was pleased with how the boys started the second half. At half-time we spoke about looking after the ball a lot better at the breakdown, and that Chris Napier try was vital for us. At the end it was the difference in us coming away with the four points.
“This weekend will be massive for us, we need just one more win to gain promotion and win the league. It is a home game against Buccaneerss and I am sure the local community and club will get behind us.
“The boys are a bit battered and bruised here after today, but we will regroup during the week and hit the ground running again next Saturday.”
Referee: Kevin Beggs (IRFU)