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Buccaneers Bounce Back In Ballymena

Buccaneers Bounce Back In Ballymena

Buccaneers got straight back on the winning trail in Division 1B by outlasting hosts Ballymena in a closely-fought tie at Eaton Park.

Although Buccaneers were worthy winners, the margin should have been more comprehensive as they squandered gilt-edged opportunities either side of half-time against the still winless hosts.

The Pirates, making five changes in personnel from their home defeat to Dungannon, took some time to dominate despite the assistance of the strong, biting breeze.

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Ballymena had the better early territory before Jack Carty opened the scoring with an 11th minute penalty but the Athlone side failed to make decent use of the downfield wind that assisted them in the opening half.

Both sides had half chances with Connacht's Mark McCrea just being unable to latch on to a smart diagonally kicked penalty.

McCrea could have coughed up a try moments later when his quickly taken throw-in was almost fastened on to by Alan Smyth.

Buccs' Callum Boland then set the game alight with a wonderful break that carved the Braidmen apart and centre Alex Hayman was up in support to score an excellent 29th minute try which Carty converted.

This gave the visitors a 10-0 lead that they held onto for half-time, but they should have added a brace of tries before the break.

A wonderful flowing move on 32 minutes saw Buccs create a two-man overlap but a careless forward pass ruined what should have been a certain score while, in the final move of the half, referee Nigel Correll whistled back winger Boland for what he deemed a forward pass.

Stand-in captain Eoghan Grace also made a terrific break but lacked support to punish Ballymena who were stretched at that stage, the pressure resulting in Martin Irwin being sin-binned for slowing possession in the 38th minute.

With the elements, including a low sun, favouring Ballymena in the second half, Buccs' lead looked tenuous.

Nevertheless, the Pirates flooded forward on the restart to pile further pressure on the Ulstermen and Carty and Boland both got close but could not breach the home line, while a straightforward close-in penalty was tapped to touch without reward.

The Athlone outfit were very much the dominant force at this stage but, with Ballymena not conceding while numerically depleted, the hosts began to make some inroads and Niall Martin kicked two penalties in quick succession at the end of the third quarter to narrow the gap to 10-6.

But Buccaneers replied in style, Grace once more storming forward to link up with the returning Garrett Halligan whose offload sent Hayman scampering through for his second try.

This experienced trio were key to Buccs prevailing in this contest between two mainly young squads. Carty added a splendid conversion to this 62nd minute touchdown but Ballymena continued to battle in search of a first league win.

Buccs then showed some nerves with both Carty and Shane Layden uncertain in dealing with a couple of long kicks.

With replacement John Burns prominent, the home side upped their endeavours to put pressure on the Pirates whose hooker Halligan was yellow carded 13 minutes from time for killing the ball.

Almost immediately, a penalty try was awarded to Ballymena and out-half Martin's simple conversion set up a grandstand finish at 17-13.

A good break by Conor Finn steadied Buccaneers and they held their composure to hold off the Ulster side's late challenge, earning a victory that really should have been a lot more comfortable in head coach Hendrik Marnitz's final game in charge before his move back to South Africa.

Referee: Nigel Correll (IRFU)