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‘Hinch Dig Deep For Derby Triumph

‘Hinch Dig Deep For Derby Triumph

Saturday marked the first time Ballynahinch had played an Ulster Bank League home match since the tragedy at the Spence farm three weeks ago.

The sun was shining brightly at Ballymacarn Park as these Ulster rivals took to the pitch and lined up along the 22 for a minute's silence in honour of former Ballynahinch players Nevin and Graham Spence and their father Noel, who tragically lost their lives recently.

The Ballynahinch players stood in their new Ulster Bank League kit, which had the addition of a large 'NS', added to the sleeve in memory of the Spences.

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Life at the County Down club must now continue but the memory of these three good men will always live on and the club's prayers and thoughts will continue to be with the Spence family in the months and years ahead.

When the game got underway, 'Hinch made the perfect start, playing into the sun towards Slieve Croob.

Full-back Adam Craig found a gap in the 'Quins midfield and surged deep into the visitors 22. When he was eventually tackled, he managed to offload to Stuart Morrow and Michael Graham who continued the attack.

Skipper Graham then linked with winger Michael Lawton at pace and he did well to cut inside Gareth Rourke, race in behind the posts and dive in to score with just two minutes played. Lawton added the extras to give 'Hinch an early seven-point lead.

Derek Suffern's side continued to dominate play from the restart with the visitors finding it hard to gain any meaningful possession. A Lawton penalty goal in the ninth minute increased the home tally to 10 points after 'Quins failed to release the tackled player.

'Quins second row Michael Ferguson retired injured in the 12th minute and was replaced by Alistair Heatlie. The Belfast outfit began to settle into the game soon after, as the hosts seemed to lose their momentum.

The breakdown was very competitive but the 'Hinch infringements began to mount. Paul Pritchard was caught pulling the ball back with his hands in a ruck in the 15th minute, giving Stuart Olding a long range shot at goal, but his effort drifted wide.

Olding missed an easier opportunity in the 23rd minute as his side continued to pressurise the 'Hinch defence, the home side finding it difficult to gain any decent field position.

As the penalty count mounted referee Leo Colgan yellow carded Jonny Simpson in the 38th minute for hands in the ruck. This time Rory Scholes stepped up and converted the kick, taking his side into the half-time break trailing 10-3.

'Hinch made the better start to the second half with Lawton converting his second penalty goal in the 43rd minute to take them 13-3 clear.

Two minutes later, Harlequins had an early opportunity to hit back but Scholes pushed his kick wide of the mark. There was no doubting the commitment from both sides as they tackled, hit rucks and battled hard for every metre.

Unfortunately the quality of rugby was not the best but as a contest it was great to watch. 'Hinch were reduced to 14 men for the second time when Matthew Nelson was yellow carded in the 53rd minute for driving into a ruck from the side.

Harlequins wasted no time in taking advantage. In the 55th minute they quickly took play deep into the 'Hinch 22.

Moving play through a number of phases, the ball eventually found the hands of Scholes and he came off the left wing to find a gap and put Adam D'Arcy clear to cross in the right hand corner. Scholes failed to convert at 13-8.

Lawson hit the post with a kickable penalty attempt in the 58th minute, Niall Annett collecting the rebound and Olding clearing to touch. As the tension began to mount Lawson was wide of the mark with another shot at goal in the 63rd minute.

The battle at the breakdown spilled over in the 69th minute with a dust up between a number of players with the referee taking both captains aside in attempt to clam things down. In the 71st minute, young winger Scholes closed the gap to 13-11 after Pritchard was pinged for going off his feet at a ruck.

In the final 10 minutes the home side took control. For the first time in the game, 'Hinch managed to take play through phases and push 'Quins back.

Rodger McBurney and Stuart Morrow did a lot of the damage with some strong running in the midfield, but up front Jonny Simpson, Kyle McCall and Michael Graham all had great runs into the heart of the 'Quins defence.

This controlled play in the final minutes was enough to secure victory for 'Hinch with Harlequins taking a losing bonus point for their efforts over the course of a hard-fought Ulster derby.

After the game, 'Hinch coach Derek Suffern said: “A local derby is always very, very difficult and I am very happy to take the four points.

“I wasn't happy with the discipline at all today, I thought we were very impatient and forced things at the breakdown. We weren't smart enough with the referee and it cost us two stints with 14 men on the pitch which nearly cost us the game to be honest.

“Harlequins missed quite a few kicks, they actually could have been ahead at a stage, but we will take the win, and won't worry too much about the losing bonus point to be honest.”

Harlequins boss Adam Larkin commented: “I think we left the result out there to be quite honest. Too slow out of the blocks, 10-0 down before we even touched the ball then after that we probably had our fair share of possession.

“In the second half we couldn't get the territory that we needed, which at this level you need to control territory, and we didn't do that.

“We were not in the right position of the field in that second half to take points which I think were there for the taking. A losing bonus point is a consolation.”

He added: “It is a big, big improvement from last week (against UCD) and for us that was key, but as I said to the boys afterwards I think and they all know that we left that one out there result wise.

“We now have a three-week break until the next league game, so it up to us to try and get the momentum back but this was an improvement from the week before.”

Referee: Leo Colgan (IRFU)