HATRICK PARK was bathed in warm sunshine for Rainey Old Boys’ Ulster League opener against neighbours Ballymena,who made the most of their numerical advantage late in the first half to build up a comfortable lead which they had little trouble holding on to.
Rainey battled gamely to claw their way back into the contest, but it was to be a frustrating afternoon for them as the Eton Park side took the points on a 27-12 scoreline.
From the first scrum of the game Rainey moved it wide before kicking ahead to force a miscued clearance which caught half the visitors’ team offside and out-half Gavin Martin gave the home side an early lead.
Ballymena were soon on level terms when a catch and drive earned them a penalty from close range which posed scrum-half McCluggage no problems.
Rainey looked sure to score when scrum-half Sciascia burst through, but his offload was not held by supporting flanker Heaney.
Ballymena then missed a clear opportunity when Rainey were carelessly caught offside in midfield. The standard of rugby nose-dived as a succession of errors and the referee’s whistle turned the game into a stop-start affair.
Ballymena looked dangerous until wing Clarke grabbed the loose ball, but he was quickly flattened as he shaped to clear and Sciascia was sin-binned for a professional foul. Ballymena opted for a scrum in front of the posts and from the next ruck McCluggage nipped in for a try.
With Wilson at No.9 and Dawson now on the wing, Rainey were dealt another blow right on the stroke of half-time. They appeared to have survived after Ballymena had created an overlap, but flanker Pritchard slipped out of Clarke’s clutches to score, the conversion taking the score to 17-3.
If the first half was dull, then the second was probably even worse. Play was halted on countless occasions for little injuries and handling mistakes, yet only three minutes of added time were played,much to the relief of the spectators present.
McCluggage edged his side further in front, with Martin replying for Rainey. Despite the wizardry of Sciascia, the Old Boys just could not string anything together. Two more sweetly struck kicks from Martin gave Rainey a fighting chance, but they were unable to create any try scoring chances as they made switches up front.
Ballymena made sure of victory when they kicked to the corner where a catch and drive brought them another converted try.
The scorer was flanker Paul Smyth, who played for Rainey in his student days.
TEAM : R.Paul,P.Wilson,M.Mc Clelland,W.Montgomery,A.Clarke,G.Martin,P.Sciascia,S.McDowell,K.Donaghy,N.O’Kane,P.Boyle,P.Stewart,P.Heaney,D.Dawson,S.Hawe.
REPLACEMENTS : A.Harbinson (McDowell 50), S.Sufferin (Donaghy 50), J.Mc Bride (McClelland), S.Mc Dowell (O’Kane 74)
RAINEY O.B. 2nd 19 - 21 Ballymena 2nd
In the Second XV League,a couple of defensive lapses were to cost Rainey O.B. 2nd XV as they slipped to a 21-19 home defeat at the hands of Ballymena 2nd XV.
A young Rainey side might have won this game with a bit of luck, but at full strength they could develop into a useful outfit.
The boot of out-half Simpson helped Rainey to a 6-0 lead.
Ballymena opened their account before debutant Rainey left-wing Dillon intercepted only to be denied by the last line of defence. Harbnson was very prominent in a Rainey pack which lacked recognised second-rows and found quality possession hard to come by.
With both scrum-halves under pressure, there was little back play.
Some good forward drives gave Rainey encouragement and a vital ankle tap tackle halted Dillon’s progress just when he looked set to break clear.
Centre Sanderson was involved in a fine touchline move which ended with prop Hall crossing for a try. Simpson converted and added a long range kick just on half-time to leave Rainey 16-6 ahead.
A penalty and a try brought Ballymena closer and with nine minutes remaining they added another to edge ahead for the first time. Simpson struck again to raise home hopes,but Ballymena finished strongly to take the honours.
A 3rd XV panel travelled to Judges Road in Derry for the George Tees Cup competition. Colin Patterson’s boys enjoyed mixed fortunes in a tough qualifying group in which they defeated Inishowen and Omagh, but went down to Ballymoney and the favourites U.U.C.
Centre Caolin Moran and scrum-half Conor Magee were the pick of the backs, while up front prop Ryan Deehan and lock Ian Patterson did well.
On Saturday,Rainey have another very difficult fixture at Ballymacarn Park where Ballynahinch rarely taste defeat. Last week they came from 18-0 behind to beat a new look Queen’s side 22-21 at Upper Malone.
Kick-off 2.30 pm. The 2nd XV game is at 1.00 pm.