Dublin University came through a big test of their promotion credentials when they battled past Ballymena 18-16 to leapfrog the Braidmen into third place in the Division 1B table.
(Video highlights from Harry Cook – Image Media Films)
Trinity extended their excellent unbeaten run to nine matches with a try in each half from forwards Tom Collis and Brian du Toit, and full-back Conor Kearns kicked the rest of the points.
Ballymena had put it up to the students, building a 13-8 interval lead thanks to Sean Taylor's sixth try of the campaign and eight points from the boot of in-form out-half Ritchie McMaster.
However, the 'College Park factor' proved decisive for Trinity during the closing 40 minutes as they scored at crucial stages and showed plenty of mettle to see out a tight result.
Tony Smeeth's young side served notice of their intentions early on, running the ball from the kick-off, but as has been the case this season, they got little change from the Ballymena midfield of Martin Irwin and Paddy James, who in turn found their Trinity counterparts equally solid in defence.
Exchanges for most of the first half were even, and the closest either side came to scoring was when Ballymena drove a lineout almost to the opposition line, only for referee Gary Conway to decide that the ball had been held up.
However, the visitors managed to open the score with a 14th minute penalty from McMaster. Kearns replied with a similar effort, kicking in the injury-enforced absence of Jack McDermott, before McMaster restored the Braidmen's lead in the 24th minute.
But Trinity's brave call to go for the corner from a kickable position proved the correct one, as the catch and drive worked perfectly and Ballymena were unable to prevent tighthead prop Collis from scoring the game's opening try.
The conversion was missed and Ballymena hit back with a beautifully worked try. Winger Taylor took the final pass from Ulster's Ricky Andrew to dot down in the left corner after a period of sustained pressure from the visitors' pack.
McMaster's conversion from wide out completed the first half scoring at 13-8. In a very physical match, both sides continued to attack when opportunities arose early in the second period.
The Ulster outfit were having the better of the things in the third quarter, and their superiority was rewarded with another McMaster penalty to stretch the lead to 16-8.
However, shortly afterwards a yellow card reduced Ballymena to 14 men and Trinity duly took advantage of this with a successful penalty from Kearns reducing the arrears to five points.
Despite pressure from Trinity, that slender lead seemed to be enough and dogged resistance stopped a wave of attacks in the final quarter.
Yet, into injury-time, Trinity pressure finally told as influential flanker du Toit (pictured above) muscled his way over to the right of the posts to bring the hosts level at 16-all. The all-important conversion was coolly slotted by Kearns to spark joyous celebrations by the home players and supporters.
Despite the last-gasp defeat, Ballymena head coach Andy Graham was full of praise for his charges. He was convinced that they had scored one close range try and possibly a second that the referee disallowed.
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU)