Rainey U18 7 – 40 Ballymena U18
Following a two week break the under 18s travelled to Hatrick Park in Magherafelt to take on a Rainey side who were sure to provide a stern test to Ballymena’s unbeaten record. The sunny weather provided perfect conditions for a display of expansive, running rugby for the large crowd in attendance. Ballymena fielded a full strength squad for the first time this season following returns from illness and injury.
Unfortunately, the Ballymena team started sluggishly, dropping the ball the first three times they were in possession from the kick off. This gave Rainey good field position and meant that Ballymena’s defence was tested early on. The first ten minutes was largely played between the two ten metre lines, neither team piecing together more than a few phases in attack. It took until 15 minutes into the game for Ballymena to start to exert pressure on the Rainey line. Strong carrying from the pack, particularly Timmy Carson and Ryan McCartney gave grey shirted Ballymena good momentum, eventually spreading the ball wide, showing great handling in the backs to get the ball out to wing Richard McCann who beat two defenders easily before superb covering defence from Rainey held him up over the try line and the opportunity was lost.
Ballymena were now putting better phases of possession together and after a superb set play from a scrum the backs released McCann again who was dragged down inches short of the line. A try looked certain however panic at the base of the ruck allowed Rainey to disrupt well, leading to a knock on over the line from Ballymena.
The first score of the match came in familiar fashion for Ballymena. Some good sustained pressure in the Rainey 22 from the forwards, with Ben Shaw and Jonny Wylie at the forefront laid the foundations for the back line. A well worked move in the centres created space for Rhys Thompson to burst through the line, dotting down under the posts to extend his try scoring run to four matches. Joe O’Rawe made the conversion.
The rest of the first half followed a similar pattern. Rainey offered dangerous threats in their backline and fed off Ballymena mistakes and poor handling however the braidmen’s defence stood strong and organised throughout.
Half time Score 7 – 0
The second half started in a similarly way the first had ended. Ballymena were working hard to get themselves in good attacking positions only for a miss placed pass or outstanding Rainey defence to frustrate them. And it was off a dropped ball from a backs’ move that allowed the Rainey winger to pick up the ball on his own ten metre line and show outstanding pace to outstrip the chasing Ballymena defenders to score underneath the posts. The conversion was added to level the scores.
In response Ballymena brought on three of their substitutes in the forwards hoping to bring some more dynamism to their ball carrying. There was an immediate response with the pack working hard to take play into the Rainey 22 time and time again only for the final pass not to go to hand. The backs redeemed themselves for the Rainey try with a superb set piece try. A wide ball from O’Rawe to Read stretched the Rainey defence and a perfectly time inside pass from Read to the trailing winger McCann split the defence wide open. McCann had plenty of work to do but stepped round the last man to touch down in the corner despite more outstanding covering tacking from Rainey. O’Rawe hit an exceptional touchline conversion to stretch the Ballymena lead.
The remainder of the match was a cagey affair from both sides. Ballymena stepped up and carried well to set up good field position. Jack Addision in particular had numerous barnstorming runs in only his second match of the year. Ballymena continued to exert pressure on Rainey in bursts with O’Rawe taking the opportunities to extend Ballymena’s lead with two well struck penalties. Rainey continued to threaten break away scores into final minutes of the game but Ballymena’s defence was always up to the task despite some poor first up tackles.
As the referee blew his final whistle the dominant feeling in the Ballymena team was one of relief rather than ecstasy. Rainey had proved a difficult test and this match acted as a wake-up call that other teams in the league are improving week by week.
Next up is the top of the table clash against Belfast Met where a much-improved performance is needed to maintain the unbeaten start to the season.
Final Score: 20-7
Scorers: Rhys Thompson, Rochard McMcann. Conversions: Joe O’Rawe x 2, Penalties: Joe O’Rawe x2
1 Jack French 2 Jonny Wylie 3 Gallum Gatt 4 Craig Houston 5 James Stirling 6 Timmy Carson 7 Ryan McCartney 8 David Surgeoner 9 Ryan Thom 10 Joe O’Rawe 11 Richard McCann 12 Michael Read 13 Rhys Thompson 14 Mark McSparren 15 Jack Gaston
Reps: Connor McQuillan, Tiernan Heggarty, James Stirling, Jack Addison, Callum Mitchel