Ballymena are the new leaders in Ulster Bank League Division 1B and the only unbeaten team left after racking up their fifth straight win – a 43-13 hammering of Blackrock College at Eaton Park.
Ballymena finished with a flourish, scoring four tries without reply in the closing stages. Ulster Under-20 out-half Andrew Magrath, making his senior bow for the hosts, converted three of those scores from Connor Smyth (2), Callum Patterson and Martin Irwin.
Blackrock probably created a little piece of history on Saturday, by being the first top flight team to arrive at Eaton Park without their jerseys. Borrowing the hosts' alternate shirts, the Dubliners started strongly with hard running by their backs creating a try that was disallowed.
The early exchanges were pretty even, with both sides showing a willingness to move the ball, but even at this stage it was clear the Ballymena possessed the more powerful scrum which had the visitors in all kinds of trouble.
The deadlock was broken in the 18h minute when a Blackrock kick out of defence fell into the arms of Jordan Foster who made 30 metres down the right touchline. He was stopped, but the ball was quickly recycled and moved into midfield where Matthew Harkness took a pass at pace and sprinted over for a try under the posts which Ritchie McMaster converted.
Ballymena scored again just five minutes later. A Blackrock clearance was charged down, giving Ballymena a lineout ten metres out. David Whann, once again in superb set piece form, took the ball and the pack drove over the line for a touchdown by Ulster U-20 captain Adam McBurney far out on the right. McMaster landed the difficult conversion for a 14-point lead.
On the half hour mark, a promising Blackrock attack was halted illegally and they were awarded a penalty which full-back Alan Hughes fired between the uprights.
The last ten minutes of the first half saw two yellow cards, one for Blackrock when centre Sean Coughlan stepped round the back of a ruck and prevented Ballymena from winning possession near his line, and one for home number 8 Stephen Mulholland for a high tackle. With the last kick of the half, McMaster landed a penalty from the right touchline to make it 17-3 at the turnaround.
The visitors started the second period with real intent and took the game to the Braidmen. With Mulholland just back on pitch, things looked ominous for Andy Graham's side when lock Whann was also yellow carded.
Blackrock were unable to turn pressure into points from a five-metre lineout and the depleted Ballymena scrum still managed to gain possession, with a strong run by Mulholland clearing the danger. 'Rock continued to press and only a try-saving tackle by Rodger McBurney and some determined defence held them out.
However, their possession and territory was finally rewarded with another Hughes penalty, and their only try of the game came when prop Mikey Carroll impressively intercepted a pass and ran 40 metres to score at the posts, making the conversion a simple one for Hughes.
With the scoreline now 17-13, and Blackrock holding the momentum, the Ballymena support felt that the game was slipping away from the hosts, so nobody was prepared for what came next. Graham's charges managed to run in four tries in the closing 15 minutes.
The first of these came after another brilliant run by Rodger McBurney who took play almost to the Blackrock line and threw an overhead pass to Glenn Baillie. He nearly got in, but James Taggart was on hand to keep the move going and his pass put fellow replacement Smyth in for the try. Magrath, who had replaced McMaster, missed the conversion.
Almost from the restart, a wild pass in the Blackrock midfield saw the ball bounce into Patterson's hands and he outpaced the defence in a 55-metre dash for the line. Magrath made no mistake this time and with minutes remaining the 29-13 advantage looked safe enough.
But Ballymena went on the attack again and a long pass from Irwin put Kieran Joyce clear. He found Irwin in support on the inside and he raced over for a try, again converted by Magrath. Another Smyth effort, following good work by the pack, was converted by Magrath for a somewhat flattering 30-point winning margin.
Referee: Eddie Hogan O'Connell (IRFU)