Report By: Simon Bennett & Calum Neeson
Ballymena RFC took five points in their drive for promotion on a wet, overcast afternoon at Eaton Park on Saturday, beating Limerick side Old Crescent RFC 29-25. Before the match, a big talking point was that thirteen of Ballymena’s starting fifteen were all educated in Ballymena. In addition, John Toland was making his AIL debut for Old Crescent.
Old Crescent kicked the game off, with players on both teams showing safe hands in the rainy conditions. Ballymena got off to an excellent start, scoring in the fifth minute after a successful line-out. Pierce Crowe powered through the midfield, evading several tacklers to open the scoring. Sam Millar converted to put the home side 7-0 up. Possession was evenly shared by both sides for the next period, with neither side really threatening each other’s try line.
Half-way through the first half, a scrum won by Old Crescent led to their best chance of the game. The scrum moved possession up the pitch towards Ballymena’s try line, however, a last-second intervention from Ballymena prevented the try. The Limerick side got their first points of the game from a penalty scored by Ronan McKenna, taking the score to 7-3. Old Crescent added another penalty just before thirty minutes, reducing the deficit to a single point for the Eaton Park side.
The scoreline looked to be very tight going into half-time, however some good team play from Ballymena resulted in a try from the ever-promising Adam Lamont. Sam Millar again converted, taking Ballymena into a 14-6 lead at the break.
Ballymena got the second-half underway, and a good run by Mark Thompson almost resulted in a try. Early in the second half, Ballymena won a penalty, but Sam Millar was unfortunate not to knock the kick over, missing the chance to increase the team’s lead.
Millar soon had another penalty chance and made no mistake, taking Ballymena into a 17-6 lead over the Limerick side. Five minutes later, Ballymena increased their lead to 16-points. A strong run and offload from Rhys Ervine put Roger McBurney away for a second half try taking the lead to 22-6.
The second half quickly became lively, with Cathal Monaghan of Old Crescent scoring an intercept try, cutting the deficit down to 22-11. Midway through the second half, some fine handling and a series of good phases were key in the build-up to David Whann powering over from close range, his first try since returning from sabbatical, securing the bonus point for the home side. Millar again converted taking Ballymena into a 29-11 lead.
The final fifteen minutes should have seen Ballymena cruise to a comfortable victory. However, a try from Old Crescent’s Niall Hardiman and a conversion from Ronan McKenna reduced the home side’s lead to only 11 points with five minutes to go. A try for Old Crescent late on made it 29-25. Rhys Ervine was deservedly named Man of the Match after another fine performance in defence and attack.
A well-deserved 29-25 victory, however the game was tighter than it probably should’ve been. Ballymena move up to fourth in the league, with Old Crescent lying at the bottom of the table. Ballymena’s 1st XV next match is away to Dolphin on October 30th.
Ballymena Scorers: Pierce Crowe (try), Adam Lamont (try), David Whann (try), Roger McBurney (try), Sam Millar (conversion x3, penalty x1).
Old Crescent Scorers: Cathal Monaghan (try), Niall Hardiman (try), Ronan McKenna (penalty x2, conversion x2).
Match Gallery from Ryan Crooks: