Match Centre - October 6, 2017 - 7:30 pm

All Ireland League 

Ballymena RFC
Banbridge RFCBanbridge RFC 1sts XV

@ Eaton Park

Match Details


Two pieces of magic conjured up by man-of-the-match Ian Porter gave Banbridge their third Ulster Bank League win in Friday night’s game at Ballymena.

This match may not have produced the entertainment of the previous two outings in which Bann racked up ten tries and 73 points. But coach Daniel Soper was delighted nonetheless to have picked up his team’s second win on the road. “We did some things very well but other parts of the game I was a bit disappointed with,” he reflected afterwards. “But what we did we hung in there, we defended well and we had to as Ballymena put us under a lot of pressure. We spent the first 30 minutes pretty much in our own third, so to absorb that pressure as we did and only turn around 10-7 down was pretty good.”

Ballymena certainly dominated for much of the first half with the strong running of No 8 Stephen Mulholland and full-back Rodger McBurney in particular keeping the Bann defence fully stretched. Ulster out-half Brett Herron slotted over an early penalty and chased his own neat chip behind the defence, winning the race to touch down before converting for a 10-0 home lead.

It was no more than Ballymena deserved given their territorial domination. Indeed they would doubtless have expected to take a bigger lead into the break. But from Bann’s first foray into the opposition “22”, in the 39th minute, Porter put lock Chris Allen in for a try with a neat reverse pass, adding the extras for good measure to give a distorted picture of the first half exchanges.

Soper was pleased with the way his team started the second half but said that they then began to make errors, giving Ballymena good field position. “They scrummaged and mauled well to pick up their penalty try but I was pleased with the character we showed to hang in there and get back a bit of momentum.”

That penalty try stretched the home side’s lead to 17-7 but with Bann beginning to go through the phases they were able to win three penalties which Porter converted with aplomb from ranges up to 40 metres to close the gap to a single point.

Then the scrum-half broke off the back of a ruck, fed hooker Peter Cromie with an inside pass, was on hand to take the return before diving over the line, and then got up to slot over the conversion.

It was still a one score game and Bann had to survive a few anxious moments in injury time as the hosts pressed for a third try.

Bann never achieved the continuity or fluency that had lit up Rifle Park in their previous two outings against Naas and UCC. Soper thought that was down partly to the pressure applied by a strong Ballymena pack but also his own team’s unforced errors. “We struggled to get into our stride in the first half, we just weren’t accurate enough with the ball at the first phase and that didn’t allow us to play the way we want. They’re a big physical team and they were making some pretty solid hits that caused us to lose the ball. Maybe we went into our shell a bit when the pressure came on.

“But we held on and with Ian Porter in the form he’s in we’re always in with a chance of picking up scores. He’s got a run of games under his belt now, he’s fit and he’s got a lot of confidence in the players around him, and they in him and that’s a nice place to be.

“When your scrum-half is going well that tends to create a wee bit of space for others and that’s what led to the final score.”

Ballynahinch’s bonus point win over UL Bohemian saw the Ballymacarn Park side push Bann into third place in the Ulster Bank Division 1B League on points differential. The two Co Down sides lock horns at Rifle Park on 28th October, a mouth-watering prospect for local rugby fans. But Soper was focussed on his side’s Senior Cup quarter-final this weekend at Armagh.

“Armagh will be a difficult proposition,” he said. “They’ve been going well in Division 2A. They play a similar type of game to ‘Hinch so that will be good preparation for the AIL game. I’m not sure which of our Ulster players are going to be released for the cup game. We’ll have to see how the players shape up on Tuesday at training. They’ve had a pretty tough sequence of games, tough both mentally and physically, over the past five weeks.

“It would be nice if we could freshen things up a bit this week and give a few guys a chance but we’ll see how things are through the week.”

Bann team v Ballymena:- Adam Doherty, Conor Field, Andrew Morrison, Jonny Little, Rob Lyttle, Michael Lowry, Ian Porter (Capt), Eric O’Sullivan, Peter Cromie, Michael Cromie, Chris Allen, Ryan Hughes, Robin Sinton, Nick Hayes, Stephen Irvine. Replacements:- Tim Savage, Stuart Cromie, Richard Graham, Josh Cromie, Ben Carson.