Match report Ards 1sts v Ballymoney
Ards progress into River Rock Towns Cup quarter final draw.
Ards RFC 1st XV welcomed Ballymoney RFC 1st XV on Saturday in the second round of the River Rock Towns Cup. A variety of circumstances forced Ards into a number of changes with David Chivers, John Dowey and Adam Faloon handed starting berths and Ryan Thompson added to the bench. A late injury blow to Paul Cox led to a reshuffled backline, with Scott Young starting at fly half and David Armstrong rejoining the team in the centre.
When the teams met back in October in the league, Ballymoney were comfortable victors as Ards were struggling to find early season away form.
A lot of hard work had arrested the decline in the Hamilton Park pitch, despite the week's poor weather, but it was still far from the firm playing surface this team prefers.
The match commenced with Ards receiving the kick off, facing Scrabo Tower and a strong wind and began to assert themselves. The squad were disappointed with their performance last Saturday, being over anxious and trying to force moves. This week there was a far more controlled and disciplined attitude without diluting their physicality and execution in play.
Before long, the Ards pack began to turn the screw. Whilst they revel in good conditions and love to play running rugby, they have shown recently in more adverse conditions that they have a collective belligerence and relish the opportunity to slug it out close, the forwards found a good early rhythm and the backline waited for the opportunities to be created.
Ards soon established a tempo that stretched the visitors and settled into the patterns and phase building into the wind with fly half Young marshalling them well. In reply, Ballymoney made a good move early on that nearly released their big outside centre, but Trevor Devlin and Armstrong held firm.
Enjoying the majority of possession for the first quarter, a line out opportunity on the visitors' 22 metre line saw a catch and drive that moved with purpose and hooker Chivers touched down for a 5-0 lead.
Ballymoney used the wind well and some excellent touchfinders kept Ards pinned back well and expending much effort for small gains as they worked their way back again. Strong carrying across the pack, with highlights from Ross Torney, Graeme Taylor and Onisi Burekama allowed some good running through the backs, with Young showing a keen eye for the gap and Devlin hungry for line breaks.
The Ards scrum was now dominant and becoming an attacking weapon, disrupting Ballymoney's possession. However, the visitors' territorial advantage did afford them possession and some good opportunities to work with as they applied sustained pressure in the Ards 22.
The home side's defence was aggressive and disciplined, with Danny Patton, Tom Arthur Donnan and Ryan Thompson repelling the visitor's carries with gusto.
Inevitably, a penalty came to Ballymoney on the Ards 22 metre line and the last move of the half saw it converted and the Ards lead reduced to 5-3.
With the second half wind advantage, Ards now looked to put more movement and width in their patterns and make good use of territory. After 10 minutes, a good set move saw Burekama released on the visitors' 10 metre line and with 4 defenders to beat, he handed off the first and set off on a bullocking run down the touchline and rounded under the posts to score, Devlin added the conversion. Ards 12 v Ballymoney 3
Ballymoney enjoyed their share of possession and although they worked hard, conditions only allowed the odd foray into the Ards half as the home defence remained committed and disciplined. Winning good ball, the Ards back three were brought into the game frequently, full back Matthew Neill and wings Coulter and Faloon enjoying runs. From this, good ground was established and a catch and drive from a line out into the final quarter saw skipper Andrew Foster touch down for Ards third try and a 17-3 lead.
By this stage, Ballymoney were clearly tiring and following a number of rolling injury subs, the match moved to uncontested scrums. As this advantage was removed from Ards, they moved further into an expansive game plan.
The visitors' defence remained tough and they gained a couple of line break with some clever play, but from deep in their own half, it was difficult for them to press that forward into a scoring opportunity.
Ards continued to enjoy themselves and put width in their play and eventually, a good return move saw an overlap earned and Thompson gave the scoring pass to Chivers in the final move of the game and a well deserved 22-3 win.
With one eye on the quarter final draw, Ards welcome Randalstown RFC to Hamilton Park next week as the league campaign continues in earnest and they aim to continue their steady improvement and climb up the table.