BANBRIDGE 31 BALLYMENA 12
Banbridge rounded off 2017 in style, clocking up five tries for a bonus point Ulster Premiership win over Ballymena.
Coach Daniel Soper was well pleased with the way his players had picked up after their Christmas break. “The guys had a bit of downtime over the holiday period but considering the late enforced changes to the team I thought they adapted well,” he said after the game.
“Our discipline was improved – I think we just conceded seven penalties – and that was good considering the pressure we were under at times in the first half. Conceding needless penalties has been our undoing at times this season so it was good to see an improvement there. And you could see that some of the other things we had worked on were paying off. When we got into their half we took our opportunities pretty efficiently, in the first half particularly.”
Just as in the earlier AIL game at Ballymena, it was Bann under pressure in the early stages as the visitors used their heavier forwards to pummel at the home line. There was little by way of sophistication about the tactics and ultimately they proved unsuccessful, with Bann’s well organised defence holding out.
Eighteen minutes into the match Bann went ahead, with centre Jonny Little burst through the flailing arms of three defenders to make the line from eight metres out. Adam Doherty converted but six minutes later Ballymena were level. Centre Matthew Norris took an inside pass to glide through the welcoming gap that opened up in the Bann lines and Glenn Baillie’s conversion tied the scores.
Bann had added another 24 points before Ballymena were able to respond. The impressive home back line put John Porter in for Bann’s second try on 33 minutes and on the stroke of half-time Chris Allen took advantage of Josh Cromie’s tap penalty to pick up from the tackle and dive over the line.
Doherty’s success off the tee continued, putting his side 21-7 ahead at the break.
Four minutes into the second half and the bonus point was secured, with Peter Cromie taking brother Michael’s pass 40 metres out and scorching through the Ballymena ranks en route to the try line.
A dropped Ballymena pass was scooped up by Andrew Morrison just inside the opposition half. The centre was caught short of the line but managed to off-load to Conor Field. The young winger deserved a score for his penetrative running throughout the match but as he came under pressure he gave the scoring pass to Little, who grabbed his second of the game.
Ballymena were still competing strongly and they had men to spare when scrum-half Michael Stronge benefitted from Rodger McBurney’s break to streak in for their second try on the hour.
But that rounded off the scoring, with the bonus point win setting Bann up for what is likely to be a Premiership decider when they travel to Armagh on 20th January.
After Saturday’s game however, Soper’s thoughts were focussed on Bann’s trip to Old Belvedere this weekend. Asked about his hopes for 2018, he said that his goals were limited to the next block of AIL games. “Our plan is to improve on the areas that have been our Achilles Heel, so that will be our focus.
“We’ve shown that we have nothing to fear from any of the sides in Division 1B. If we can sort out some of the things that we haven’t been doing as well we’d like, then we can get results. And if we can keep on improving then hopefully we can finish in the top four and closer to first than fourth, but at worst put ourselves in a play-off position, which would be a pretty positive outcome.”
Bann started Saturday’s game without any of their Ulster Academy or Development players and Soper said that their availability would not be known until later in the week. “Nick (Timoney), Rob (Lyttle) and Greg (Jones) all start for Ulster against Leinster so it’ll depend on how things go there. And I don’t know yet if we’ll have any of the other Ulster guys. But with or without them we’ll take a strong side to Dublin for the Belvedere game.”