On Saturday, Ballymena took to the field for the first game of the AIL season against Navan RFC. With both teams sharing victories at their respective home fixtures last year, both teams will have gone into the game confident of a win.
After some disappointing losses during the Ulster League, the home side were determined to reverse their form and dominated the early exchanges.
Playing in the pivotal out half role, Pierce Crowe missed an early chance to put Ballymena ahead, hitting the upright with his first attempt at goal, before making no mistake with a long range effort from 40m out to put Ballymena into an early 3-0 lead.
Navan replied soon after with their first try of the game. Navan’s winger made a jinking run, finding a gap in the black defensive wall before a well executed two vs one put Sean Walsh in close to the posts, allowing for an easy conversion and a 7-3 lead.
Andy Hughes’ men were enjoying long period of possession and with the influence of new backs coach Ian Humphreys, were attempting to play expansive rugby in the mild conditions in the first half. Further indiscipline from Navan gave Crowe another long range penalty opportunity and he duly obliged, reducing the deficit to 1 point at 7-6.
Captain Adam Lamont regained the lead for Ballymena just before half time. Conor Smyth, back in black after a few years away, made the initial break before some fine handling found Lamont who went in unopposed under the posts. Crowe added the conversion for a 13-6 lead at the break.
Crowe added another penalty early into the second half, increasing the margin to 9 points and at this point, the home side looked to be showing dominance over the opposition. Momentum quickly swung towards the visitors and in a costly 20 minute spell, scored 3 tries and a penalty unanswered to seal the game.
Playing with new combinations throughout the pitch, a combination of handling errors and a lack of direction resulted in Navan capitalising on Ballymena’s mistakes. With the home side losing the ball in promising positions, Navan pounced on the errors and put the game out of sight and securing a try bonus point during the last quarter, building a 29-16 lead by the 75th minute.
Rodger McBurney scored a consolation try with the last play of the game and Callum Patterson converted from out wide to gain a crucial losing bonus point with the final score 29-23 to Navan.
Butler, Lamont, Mawhinney, P. Browne, C. Smyth, Howe, Lamont, Dick, Baillie, Crowe, Ervine, S. Millar, Patterson, D. Millar, McBurney. Reps: Taggart, Mark, Wallace, Henry, C. Smyth