Second-placed Ballymena were held to a 13-13 draw by Corinthians who came to the fore in the second half of this entertaining Ulster Bank League Division 1B fixture.
(Video highlights from Harry Cook – Image Media Films)
Corinthians travelled to Eaton Park in September's opening round and came away with nothing in a 20-0 defeat, but Saturday's encounter was a different kettle of fish.
Ballymena won the toss and opted to play with the elements, looking to rack up scores in the first half and then utilise their heavier pack to contain the Cloonacauneen outfit during the closing 40 minutes.
The Braidmen were nearly in for an early try but they were pulled up by referee Eddie Hogan O'Connell for crossing as they headed for the Corinthian whitewash.
Corinthians were penalised for the same offence some minutes later, and Ballymena out-half Ritchie McMaster had no problem in converting the ensuing penalty from in front of the posts.
They struck for the opening try soon after. Initially, number 8 Stephen Mulholland picked the ball from the base of the scrum, lively scrum half David Shanahan then made some ground and set up his right winger Jordan Foster to sidestep the home cover as he skated in from the halfway line for an excellent score.
However, McMaster missed the conversion from wide out and he sent a penalty opportunity wide of the target some minutes later.
The Corinthian pack upped their game after this let-off as their scrum improved. Captain Joey Merrigan urged on his pack as loosehead prop Mark Byrne and second row Colin Raftery drove forward at every opportunity. The visitors fumbled the ball on a few occasions as home scrum half Phil Maher succeeded in spoiling and generally making a nuisance of himself.
But, Ballymena got a break as the ball squirted their way from a Corinthians scrum put-in. Shanahan was wide awake, whipping the ball out to Ricky Andrew, who had a bit off work to do as he scrambled towards the try-line, and out of nowhere lock Connor Smyth gathered and got in for well-taken touchdown.
The conversion was put wide and while there were still some minutes remaining in the half, Corinthians held out to go in at the break 13-0 down.
Pat Cunningham's charges started slowly enough in the second half, before an excellent break by young centre Dwayne Corcoran got them inside scoring range. They duly won a penalty which out-half Conor Murphy converted from the 22-metre line.
With the elements assisting the hosts, they kept the pressure on as Corcoran gathered an excellent ball from loose play. With a bit of work to do he skipped in for a brilliant individual try, and Murphy added the extras to close the gap to 13-10.
Ballymena decided to keep the game tight at this stage with their slender three-point lead. Andy Graham's side made ground on a few occasions but they could not conjure up a score.
Corinthians kept slogging away, trying to get over the gain-line, and they kept the pressure on with the assistance of a rain shower coming down from Ballybrit.
With time running out, Ballymena were pulled for killing the ball on their own 22. Murphy stepped up to slot slotted the levelling penalty from out wide. it was a might effort and gave Corinthians two valuable league points at the end of a nip-and-tuck contest.
Referee: Eddie Hogan O'Connell (IRFU)