Ballymena got back to winning ways in Ulster Bank League Division 1B at their Eaton Park base, bagging a bonus point in the process as they overwhelmed UL Bohemians 33-12.
(Video highlights from Harry Cook – Image Media Films)
UL Bohemians, who were beaten 30-23 by Ballymena in October, ventured north having won only three games in Division 1B, but for the first ten minutes they more than held their own.
The visitors even took a five-point lead when a clever kick by scrum half Derek Farrell was plucked out of the air by left winger Tim Rafferty who covered the final 30 metres to ground the ball far out on the left. In the bitingly cold wind that blew throughout the game, the conversion was unlikely and that is how it proved.
The rest of the first half saw Ballymena assert their dominance with an entertaining brand of fast attacking rugby, but to their credit Bohs defended well and stifled the home side's efforts.
The pressure eventually told and with the scrum getting the better of their opposition and Dominic Gallagher prominent in the loose, the hosts' first try eventually came.
A Bohs kick ahead was fielded by Jordan Foster on the right touchline and the ball was quickly moved infield to Sean Taylor who made ground down the middle. The move was carried on by the pack and when the ball broke loose, hooker John Andrew picked up and ran in to score between the posts, leaving Ritchie McMaster with easy conversion.
McMaster also converted the next Ballymena try, scored by his half-back partner Dave Shanahan who took advantage of some strong running in midfield by Paddy James, picking up the quickly recycled ball and outpacing the Bohs defence for a fine individual effort. That made it 14-5 for half-time.
Ballymena's third touchdown came shortly after the restart. Following a period of sustained pressure by the pack on the Bohs line, Andrew Warwick, making a welcome appearance in Ballymena colours, scored out on the right to give his side a 14-point cushion.
The bonus point arrived with award of a penalty try by referee Nigel Correll when the Bohs pack buckled when it looked as if Ballymena were heading for a pushover score. McMaster's simple conversion increased the lead to 26-5.
The mistakes that Bohs had been making proved their undoing again, when flanker Gallagher snaffled up a dropped ball and fed Martin Irwin in support. When he went to ground, Gallagher was again instrumental in securing possession and a quick pass sent centre James through a gap and he showed great pace and strength to make his way to the line for another try which McMaster converted.
Bohs then enjoyed their period of supremacy and they were rewarded with a try by Munster-capped hooker Kevin O'Byrne, converted by Shane Airey. That try did not affect the outcome but it did deprive the Braidmen of third spot in the table on scoring difference, with Dublin University just ahead of them.
There is now a clear pattern to Division 1B. There are four teams well clear of the chasing pack, Galwegians topping the table with Garryowen, Trinity and Ballymena in hot pursuit. In the next series of games, Garryowen play the students in Dublin and Ballymena host Galwegians at Eaton Park, so Saturday, February 21 may turn out to be moving day.
Referee: Nigel Correll (IRFU)