Ballymena 21 Armagh RFC 19
After last Saturday’s narrow home 21-17 win against Midleton, Armagh travelled north to play Ballymena in the Ulster Senior League with a certain degree of uncertainty.
Firstly, the fixture was not definitely secure due to the severe weather conditions. Earlier on Saturday morning Ballymena were forced to call off the second fifteen game against Armagh due to a frozen pitch.
The decision regarding first fifteen game would only be made by the match referee immediately prior to the kick-off. With this in mind the team travelled to Ballymena not sure if there would be a game to play.
By good fortune just half an hour before the kick-off the match referee declared the pitch playable. There definitely was more frost in Eden park than Armagh.
The game kicked-off with Armagh taking the early initiative and forcing the home side’s defence to be tested on several occasions. Centre, John Faloon, made a storming break down the centre of the field but a resultant ruck saw Armagh penalised and the penalty kick from Richie McMaster put the home side into an early 3-0 lead.
Armagh’s right winger, Andrew Willis made another of his famed runs down the pitch only to be forced to leave the field with a foot injury. His run, however, led to some strong Armagh play where the home number 3 was sin binned for entering a ruck from the side.
From the penalty, Armagh secured a line out ball and Stephen Morton scored the first Armagh try. The difficult conversion went wide to bring the score to 3-5. Ballymena kicked another penalty followed shortly with a try from their number 8, also converted. This put the home side 13-5 ahead at the half time break.
Not to be out-done, however, the visitors started off the second half with a storming try from Chris Colvin as he broke the strong home defence inside his own 22 and ran the length of the field to score under the Ballymena posts.
Matthew Steenson’s conversion narrowed the score to 13-12. The home team then scored a try in the left corner after a prolonged spell of tight, hard rugby.
Armagh’s forward substitute lock, James Hannah, scored a convincing try after a sustained period of forward play from the Armagh pack. Manihera Eden’s conversion put the Armagh side 18-19 ahead, a lead they held for only five minutes.
As the clock ran down Armagh were caught off side and the Ballymena out-half’s penalty saved the day for the home side with the narrowest 21-19 victory.
Armagh can only be pleased with their gutsy match performance. To leave Eden Park with a losing bonus point in a game which they almost won is no mean feat. Indeed, to leave Ballymena having scored three tries to the home side’s two could almost be claimed as a moral if not a technical victory.
The atmosphere in the club-house following the game found a team with regained game confidence. This certainly makes next Saturday’s trip to Ards all the more interesting.
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