Ulster Senior League
Ballynahinch 36 Banbridge 12
BALLYNAHINCH and Banbridge took to Ballymacarn Park pitch in bright sunshine with a light breeze blowing from Slieve Croob towards the clubhouse. Ballynahinch won the toss and opted to play with the elements in the first half reports Richard Hart.
The local County Down derby got off to a slow start with the main bulk of the play taking place in between the 22’s, but Ballynahinch’s strong running backs always looked threatening with the ball in their hands.
After 5 minutes of play, a Ballynahinch line-out on Banbridge’s 22 saw the ball won cleanly off the top with Aaron Cairns at scrum half moving the ball out to James McBriar and onto Stuart Morrow who set up the second phase of play.
Cairns moved the ball wide again to Adam Craig on the left hand wing who broke through two Banbridge tackles to score in the left hand corner. Chris Quinn playing on the opposite wing missed a difficult conversion. After seven minutes played, Ballynahinch led by 5-0.
Ballynahinch attacked hard from the restart, but after several phases of strong forward play again breaking into the Banbridge 22, excellent counter rucking saw Banbridge steal the ball and move it quickly to Adam Doherty at out half who under pressure from the Ballynahinch back row players John Madden and David McGuigan, kicked to clear his lines.
The clearance kick was recovered and the ball was moved quickly by McBriar, who had recovered the kick, through the centres Robin Hart and Morrow to Craig on the left wing who scored again in the left hand corner for his second try. Quinn, kicking more assuredly, converted the try.
Play continued with Ballynahinch constantly threatening with the ball in their hands. Some excellent forward play from Club Captain Chris Stevenson and his fellow front row players of Johnny Simpson and Matthew Nelson at hooker ensured that the Hinch backs always had a good supply of ball. On 25 minutes, with the ball moved quickly by the ever efficient Cairns through the backs, Rodger McBurney came in from his right hand wing to be the extra man on the left, receiving the ball from Craig to go over in the obviously favoured left hand corner to score. Quinn failed to convert the try. Ballynahinch were now leading 17-0 at 27 minutes looking strong.
Ballynahinch continued to apply pressure in all aspects of the game with Banbridge struggling with the pace that the Hinch men were setting. On 35 minutes, a Ballynahinch scrum on Banbridge’s 22 saw the ball recycled through two further phases of strong forward play, with both Hinch locks, John Donnan and Chris Napier carrying the ball over the gain line, finally allowing the Hinch number 8 – Michael Graham – to score to the left of the Banbridge posts with Quinn then converted.
On 38 minutes, inside the Hinch 22, solid pressure from Banbridge in the scrum saw Hinch penalised for the front row lifting. Banbridge chose to kick to touch. Winning their line-out Banbridge moved the ball through a 2nd phase of play, driving with their big forwards under the Hinch posts where Madden was penalised by the referee for a high tackle.
Banbridge opted for an attacking scrum in front of the Hinch posts, securing their own ball with scrum half Craig Mullholland linking well with his out half Doherty who slipped the ball to fullback Greg Taylor who broke through some poor Hinch defence to score any easy try. Doherty converted and at Half time Ballynahinch were leading 24-7.
At half time Ballynahinch replaced both Morrow with the returning James Thompson and David McGuigan with Neil Faloon.
Banbridge came out for the second half emboldened by their first half try and heaped the pressure on the Hinch men, forcing a lot of handling errors and scrappy play in the midfield. On 50 minutes, the Banbridge prop Colin Bickerstaff suffered a suspected broken leg and was stretchered off the pitch.
Played continued with the infringements on both sides increasing as Banbridge’s lack of access to the ball frustrating their players as much as Ballynahinch were frustrated by the loss of their first half form. Both sides chose not to convert their penalties, instead choosing to opt for the set piece line-outs.
On 59 minutes, a Hinch line-out on the Banbridge 22 saw the ball well secured by Napier and the Hinch forwards formed a rolling maul with the ball worked well to John Donnan at the back who went over for the try. Quinn missed a further challenging kick from the left side. At 61 minutes played, Ballynahinch were now leading convincingly at 29-7.
The Hinch hooker was replaced by the Ulster U-19 hooker Conor Philips. There was a further exchange of penalties caused by increasing infringements and frustration on both sides, but throughout, the Ballynahinch defence was a solid wall that Banbridge could not breach.
Hart had a try disallowed on 72 minutes for a forward pass earlier in an excellent Hinch back move to the right and a scrum was awarded to Banbridge. Ballynahinch, with some excellent scrummaging wheeled the scrum and took the ball against the head, allowing Cairns to move the ball wide to Quinn on the left who scored and went on to convert his own try.
A dogged Banbridge did not let their heads drop and they came back at the comfortable Hinch lead with strong forward play, eventually, on the cusp of full time, the replacement Hooker Peter Cromie went over on Hinch’s right for Banbridge’s second try. Doherty missed the conversion.
Overall, this was a very fast paced game, with the flow and speed of the game suiting the home team.
Ballynahinch: Rodger McBurney, Adam Craig, Stuart Morrow, Robin Hart, Chris Quinn, James McBriar, Aaron Cairns, Rab McBurney, Chris Stevenson (C), Matthew Nelson, Johnny Simpson, Chris Napier, John Donnan, Johnny Madden, David McGuigan, Michael Graham. Replacements: Conor Philips, Alan Irwin, James Thompson, Aaron Ferris, Neil Faloon