Ballymena showed a huge amount of grit and determination to hold off Navan and secure Andy Hughes’ first win as head coach. Eaton Park hosted Navan, relegated last season from Division 1B in what was the first ever meeting between the two sides.
Callum Patterson, making his first home appearance for a few seasons, opened the scoring with a long range penalty in the first 5 minutes to settle the Ballymena nerves. Navan then showed confidence in their sizeable forward pack, turning down a kickable penalty, instead opting to tap and go from ten metres out. This proved to be the correct decision, when after a few phases they breached the try line after a series of pick and drives to take a 7-3 lead.
Patterson bought the scores to within one point with another long range effort after pressure from the home side forced a penalty.
Navan’s physical pack were starting to show a period of dominance and Ballymena fell foul of the referee’s whistle on a number of occasions. A series of penalties allowed Navan’s out half to make territorial gains, making their way up to the 22. Navan eventually scored from a well organised lineout maul from 5m out to give them a 14-6 lead.
This try seemed to spark a new level of aggression, lead by a fine back row performance from Howe, Lamont and Jordan. Ballymena started to dominate on both sides of the ball and made inroads into Navan’s 22. A deliberate knock on from an opposition player gave Ballymena what looked like a routine penalty in front of the posts.
Glenn Baillie instead opted for a scrum and Oisin Jordan obliged, showing plenty of pace and power from a number 8 pick to barge over for a try, converted by Patterson to give a half time score of 14-13 to Cashel.
The second half was highly physical with a number of powerful tackles being made by both teams. Ballymena’s defensive effort, attitude and line speed was to the delight of the sizeable home crowd. The two teams were evenly match through most of this period with scoring opportunities limited by excellent defences.
The deadlock was broken only once, with captain Baillie’s trademark show and go from a lineout move making a break and allowed him to put Callum Patterson in for a try under the posts. Patterson converted his own try for what proved to be the final score of the game at 20-14 to the home side.
Navan threw everything at the young Ballymena side but were unable to get over the line and the home side held on to spark celebrations in the club house.
Ballymena’s face a trip to UL Bohemians in Limerick next Saturday looking to build on the Hughes’ first win since taking the reins.
Try II Oisin Jordan, Callum Patterson
Con II (Patterson)
Pen II (Patterson)
Ferguson, Donald, McWhirter, P. Browne, J. Browne, Howe, Lamont, Jordan, Weerarathne, Baillie, McIlroy, Patterson, Ervine, D. Millar, McGuckian
Subs: Mark, Taggart, Wallace, S. Millar, Robson