Match Centre - March 10, 2018 - 2:30 pm

All Ireland League 

Banbridge RFCBanbridge RFC 1sts XV
Ballymena RFC

@ Rifle Park

Match Details


Banbridge made it three wins from three games against Ulster rivals Ballymena, adding this All-Ireland League success to the early season win in the same competition and the SONI Premiership defeat of the Co Antrim side.

Bann Coach Daniel Soper might well have been disappointed that his team did not pick up the bonus point, given that they were halfway to the four tries by the interval. But speaking after the game he said that if he’d been offered four points before kick-off he’d have taken it. “Ballymena always present a very physical challenge,” he said. “And considering the number of Ulster players they were able to field and the difficult conditions I’m happy enough with the four points.”

Rain before and during the game made it difficult for both teams and that was reflected in a contest that only stuttered into life on occasions. Ballymena made their customary strong start, using their big pack to test the home defence. But as was the pattern in earlier contests between the sides, the Bann defence was the match for anything that came its way.

Bann had the first real scoring opportunity when Ballymena infringed 35 metres out and Adam Doherty made them pay the price as he slotted between the uprights to open his side’s account with 10 minutes played.

It was stalemate in the 22 minutes’ play that followed. But when the visitors’ hooker Adam McBurney picked up a yellow card for an illegality, Bann had an easier penalty chance off the tee. They opted instead for the scrum and that decision looked to have backfired when Ballymena hacked threw on a loose ball. But the home side re-gathered the ball and patiently went through more phases to give Conor Field a sniff of a chance. That was all the young winger needed as he rounded his opposite number and raced the 35 metres to the try line, going behind the posts to make Doherty’s conversion a formality.

And by the interval that lead had been extended to 15 unanswered points, with hooker Peter Cromie adding the finishing touch after the Bann pack had turned a lineout into a maul 30 metres out and driven it within striking distance of the Ballymena line.

Ballymena probably edged the territorial exchanges after the break but too often they were let down by their handling skills or discipline. And when the scoring chance came Bann’s way, they showed just how to capitalise. Replacement out-half Robin Thompson put in a perfect grubber kick and as the ball bobbled tantalisingly just short of the Ballymena line, it came off a defender’s leg and Doherty just beat Field to the touchdown, adding an excellent conversion out wide.

Bann scrum-half Jason Gribbon was unfortunate to be yellow-carded in the closing stages and the visitors soon made the most of the extra man, putting winger James Beattie in for an unconverted try. But Bann still finished strongly, almost grabbing the fourth try after good work by Stephen Irvine and Andrew Morrison.

“Our target for today was to get four points and we did that, so that was good,” said Soper. “The conditions were difficult in the first half and then in the second the pitch started to cut up a little bit, so just to get the win was important.

“When we got our third try we had ten minutes to chase the fourth. But unfortunately in the second half we just didn’t seem able to get a foothold in the game. When we tried to play we were undone by the conditions.

“We knew if we stayed in control defensively we could play a long time without being broken. Our defence was particularly good in the first half and in periods of the second half and despite all their possession they only managed one try which is a positive.

“I thought Conor’s try was a cracker. He really showed his pace and his agility to beat the last defender. And to maul them over from some 30 metres for the second try – that was superb because they were a big strong pack.”

Soper was pleased with Robin Thompson’s input to the game. “That was his first run-out in the AIL for a couple of seasons, but he’s an experienced guy and we’re probably going to need him over the next few weeks.”

With neither Ballynahinch nor Shannon in action at the weekend that win sees Bann take over the top spot in Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League, three points ahead of ‘Hinch and four in front of Shannon.

Bann’s next outing, at Armagh on Thursday night, is likely to decide the SONI Ulster Premiership, a game that Soper sees as important in the whole context of the season. “It’s important that we improve on some things on Thursday night, that we don’t just put in the 80 minutes without any real focus. If we turn up with the right focus, hopefully we’ll get a result.”

With Ulster ‘A’ in action at Rifle Park on Thursday afternoon and the AIL Clubs side playing at the weekend, it will be a much-changed Bann side that takes the field at Armagh. But with a chance of lifting the Premiership title for the first time, whatever side is fielded will be sure to put it up to the holders.

Bann team v Ballymena:- Adam Doherty, Adam Ervine (Capt), Andrew Morrison, Ben Carson, Conor Field, Jonny Little, Jason Gribbon, Eric O’Sullivan, Peter Cromie, Michael Cromie , Chris Allen, Stephen Irvine, Caleb Montgomery, Nic Hayes, Greg Jones. Replacements:- Jonny Weir, Stuart Cromie, Mike Bentley, Robin Sinton, Robin Thompson.