A nightmare ten minute spell after half-time proved to be the difference between the sides when Ballymena beat Rainey Old Boys 24-12 in the Ulster League at Eaton Park.
Having fared well against the breeze to turn round only 7-5 in arrears, Rainey made a succession of costly errors which left them facing an uphill battle. Some excellent scrummaging from the pack enabled them to hang on and gradually make a contest of it and a late try was no more than they deserved.
Both clubs clearly had one eye on this week’s fixtures when they selected their starting line-ups for this game. While Ballymena entertain Munster Cup winners Cork Constitution in the semi-final of the Bateman Cup, Rainey will be going all-out to extend their winning run in the AIL against Boyne.
The Braid men threw the ball about in a confident start, but it was Rainey who drew first blood with a try after nine minutes. When a Ballymena move broke down in the Rainey half, the loose ball was worked wide to Clarke who crossed halfway before kicking ahead. And from the ensuing scrum, No. 8 Dawson, returning after a long absence, forced his way over.
Ballymena out-half Drysdale then had Clarke scrambling back to save the day when he made a lovely break from his own 22’ before kicking ahead into space. Minutes later, Ballymena went ahead with a catch and drive try from McKay, converted by Drysdale.
Careless Ballymena handling in midfield gave Rainey the chance to find a promising field position in the corner, but the home side broke out in style with wing Stirling forced into touch on the Rainey 10’.
While Drysdale and Irwin put in some telling kicks for Ballymena, Rainey struggled in this department and found themselves on the receiving end for a spell. A misfiring lineout continues to frustrate Rainey, but their scrummaging was first rate throughout and brought them back into the picture.
Flanker Burns got on the end of a Martin chip and then Barker initiated an attack on halfway which saw wing Campbell break into the Ballymena 22’ with support arriving at the breakdown. Ballymena had a let-off in time added on when Martin’s kick from 40 yards fell just short.
A catalogue of individual errors, allied to some weak tackling, helped Ballymena to run riot after the break. Tries from playmaker Drysdale, Smyth and Small took the score to 24-5. It could have got a lot worse as Balymena piled on the pressure from three close range penalties, but the Old Boys refused to wilt with their scrummage dominance helping them to survive this sticky patch.
The last fifteen minutes belonged to Rainey with Simpson, Rutledge and Barker taking them forward, but the vital accuracy was lacking until Barker broke round the front of a lineout to send hooker Donaghy over in the corner, O’Connor converting.
Rutledge and Lamberton showed up well as they moved the ball about in the Ballymena 22’,but a long pass missed the target to bring to a close an entertaining game.
Rainey Old Boys: R. Lamberton, A. Campbell, M. McClelland, J. Cassidy, A. Clarke, G. Martin, S. Simpson, S. Rutledge, S. Sufferin, N. O’Kane, P. Boyle, T. Barker, T. Burns, S. Hawe, D. Dawson. Replacements: M. O’Connor (Campbell 40), A. Harbinson (Dawson 50), K. Donaghy (Sufferin 50), R.Hall (Boyle 65)