Ards lose to Ballymena in Conference League
By STEPHEN NUTT
Ballymena victor in tight match
Ards 1st XV welcomed Ballymena 2nd XV to Hamilton Park last Saturday in an Ulster Conference League fixture. This league was designed to offer competitive fixtures to the 2nd teams of Senior clubs and although there is no title as such to compete for, it does allow clubs the opportunity to try different combinations.
Not having had a league match for 3 weeks due to an unusual fixture schedule, it gave Ards 1sts a welcome run out. Ballymena had been enjoying great success at this level so far this term and the Ards coaching team took the opportunity to give a number of players exposure to 1st team level.
Despite the heavy rain earlier, the Hamilton Park surface had been well managed and was in great shape. The conditions also obliged, with mild temperatures and little wind giving the players plenty to work with.
Both teams started well and were keen to test their opposite defence where they could. However, each side was guilty of perhaps forcing their rugby and making small errors, with plenty of scrum and lineout restarts a feature. Opportunities were rare and hard fought for both sides throughout.
In the first quarter, working intelligently off loose ball at a Ballymena ruck at half way, prop Matty Kane picked up and sprinted towards the line, swatting off defenders. Just pulled down short, the Ards support failed to capitalise and the move broke down.
In the second quarter, full back Aaron May fielded a deep clearance kick well and stepped through several defenders before kicking through deep into the visitors' 22. He was unlucky not to convert and, again, the visitors cleared their lines.
Ballymena also enjoyed periods of pressure in the first half, but Ards defence held firm with intelligent and committed defence.
With the half hour mark passed, the Ards defence forced another of many turnovers on their 22, but the clearance kick was wayward. Moving the ball wide quickly, Ballymena out did the Ards defensive press and just squeezed in in the corner for an excellent turnover score. The conversion wide and a 0-5 lead taken.
Despite working hard to put width on their game, Ards found the Ballymena defence had an excellent press and progress was stifled, with the score unchanged at the half time break.
In the second half, the game centralised more in terms of territory and although each side had a period of pressure in the opposition's red zone, it was a day where defences were king and the discipline displayed by both teams in this regard should be applauded.
With 5 minutes remaining, an incursion by Ballymena earned a kickable penalty and they extended their lead to 0-8.
Finishing the game hard in an effort to take a score, Ards had some territory, but found the visitors defence unyielding on the day.
Our thanks to Ballymena RFC for an excellent game, well refereed by Graham Gibson and observed by a fair crowd of supporters.