Match report: Ards 1sts v Ballymoney
By STEPHEN NUTT
Ards take all the 'Money - bonus point win for Ards against Ballymoney
Ards RFC 1st XV welcomed Ballymoney RFC 1st XV to Hamilton Park on Saturday for the return fixture in the Kukri Ulster Championship 2 League. The corresponding encounter at Kilraughts at the start of the season was a feisty affair as always, with the opposition taking the points.
Ards saw the return of Danny Patton from long term injury in the forwards and Mark Banford at centre, with Onisi Burekama and Taylor Nutt unavailable.
After many weeks of inclement weather, we were fortunate to have near perfect rugby conditions, with sunshine and a light wind. The 1st XV pitch was in great shape and finely coiffed, as Ards' brand new groundskeeping equipment was put to use for the first time.
The home side started facing the lough with a very marginal wind advantage and receiving the kick off. Well gathered, the tone was set early as the pack were put to work and responded with strong carrying work and disciplined phase building against their much larger visiting opposition forwards.
Good movement and width was being worked, with Graeme Taylor, Ross Torney and Tom Arthur Donnan showing early highlights. This gave usable front foot ball for scrum half Adam Curry to create a high tempo for fly half Paul Cox to use, both with the boot and through his entire backline as Ards pressed.
The home forward pack used this momentum to dominate 1st phase with confidence, pushing the Ballymoney pack off the ball with ease to win a steady stream of scrum penalties and winning consistent line out ball.
Despite the high levels of territory and possession, the Ballymoney defence was well organised and committed, proving difficult to break. However, as the second quarter was underway, the deadlock was broken as Ards flanker Paddy Bond went on an aggressive run from 30 metres out. A combination of quick feet and driving through tackles saw him evade a number of defenders to take a fine score under the posts. The conversion from Cox was good and the score opened at 7-0.
Ards then pushed on, with the ball moving to the backline earlier, as they worked their way forward into a still robust Ballymoney defence. However, within 5 minutes, this defence was unlocked again, as Curry, centre David Armstrong and full back Aaron May combined out wide to give May a superb finish and Ards second try. A difficult conversion was well taken by Cox and the lead was now 14-0.
Ballymoney then started to fight back and earning some penalties, went to the line and used their trademark driving maul. Battering the line several times, the Ards pack refused to buckle and rebuffed the visitors time after time. With tensions spilling over in their frustration, the Ballymoney flyhalf swung a punch that started a larger altercation. Both he and Ards Captain Andrew Foster received red cards as the referee restored order. As the half closed, the visitors continued to press, but the home defence was resilient, eventually winning a ruck penalty and closing the half off at 14-0.
Ards started the second half as they did the first. Good, disciplined phase building with ball in hand and continued 1st phase dominance saw them enjoy good possession. The visitors kicked with the wind for territory gains, but full back May and No 8 Taylor were in fine form in the backfield, marshalling the ball back well. Despite holding some advantage, Ards were unable to convert this to points in what was still a close encounter. Having better possession in the conditions, Ballymoney started taking the upper hand as the third quarter was closing. A smart chip over the top by their scrum half for a chasing winger saw the Ards cover just out run and the visitors open their account. The conversion unsuccessful, the score was reduced to 14-5.
From the restart, Ballymoney's tails were up and moving away from their structured game, a set of offloads and interchanges saw them take an excellent score under the posts. With a simple conversion, the score was now 14-12 and it was game on.
The home side now started to wrestle the game back and with 10 minutes to go a combination of persistence and fitness saw good line breaks and gains as Matthew Kane, Robert Hull and Mark Banford set the trend for a hard and fast finish. Coming close to a score twice, another barrelling run from prop Kane was rewarded with a try out wide to the left and the lead pushed out to 19-12.
Ards were now dominant again and winning a penalty in front of the posts, refused the easy points to go for the bonus point try. Ballymoney were in no mood to hand this over, but after a large phase count, Donnan drove over from close to claim it. Cox's conversion was good and the lead moved to 26-12.
The referee restarted the game in injury time and from the kick off, Ballymoney took a consolation try for the game to close immediately after for a 26-17 victory for Ards.
This highly entertaining game played by 2 well matched teams was enjoyed by a large crowd. Our thanks to the opposition players and management and the referee.