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Malone End Ballymena’s Winning Run

Malone End Ballymena’s Winning Run

Ballymena’s five-match winning run was ended by a 13-7 defeat to Malone in a hard-fought Ulster derby at Eaton Park, as the Braidmen lost their grip on Division 1B’s top spot.

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS: BALLYMENA 7 MALONE 13 (Imagemedia Films)

The sides swapped tries in the second half with Malone lock Cory Tipping and Ballymena winger James Beattie both scoring converted efforts in a game that was played mostly in a downpour.

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But key to the Cregagh Red Sox's second successive league victory was an eight-point kicking contribution from centre Josh Pentland, who booted two first half penalties to set them on their way.

Apart from the first five minutes of this round 6 clash when Ballymena enjoyed a degree of supremacy, the first half belonged to Malone.

In those 40 minutes, thanks to a dominant scrum and a strong defence, Malone's energetic team denied the Braidmen any kind of scoring chance. Pentland kicked two penalties to give his side a 6-0 lead at half-time.

Jacques Benade's men deserved to be in front at the turnaround, having coped well with the late withdrawal of influential scrum half John Creighton. Shane Kelly was a very able deputy with player-coach David Creighton added to the Malone bench.

Ulster Under-20 ace Josh Bingham, who lined out with Kelly at half-back, kicked intelligently and accurately as he pinned Ballymena back in their 22. The visiting pack also came up trumps in winning a couple of key scrum decisions.

As Ballymena continued to play second fiddle on the resumption, Malone moved 13-0 clear thanks to a well-crafted 48th minute try from Tipping who made it over the line after a terrific lineout maul from 25 metres out.

Pentland converted to put Benade's charges into a seemingly unassailable lead. With both benches in full use in the difficult weather conditions, Ballymena remained scoreless until two minutes from the end.

Malone's defensive line was slow for once, allowing out-half Tim Small to attack from his own 22. After some slick passing, Beattie was given some room to work in out on the left wing and he finished off in style, reducing the deficit to six points following Small's successful conversion.

Although they stood firm to take home four valuable league points, Malone had a disruptive finish to the game as forwards Richard Millar and James McAlister, who both put in big shifts, collided with each other when tackling Ballymena number 8 Stephen Mulholland.

After a lengthy injury stoppage, McAlister had to leave the pitch but second row Millar was able to continue as the Cregagh Red Rox saw out their six-point success. Afterwards, Ballymena boss Andy Graham was full of praise for the collective performance of the Malone front five.

This loss for Graham's side, coupled with Galwegians' Friday night victory, means that they slip to second place in the Division 1B table. Ballymena and Malone meet again later this month at the semi-final stage of the First Trust Ulster Senior Cup.

Referee: Mark Patton (IRFU)