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Ballymena 15 - Naas 8   26/09/2016

Ballymena 15 - Naas 8

This was always going to be a big ask for Naas. Away to Ulsters No.1 club side on current rankings Ballymena, a team who only last weekend had impressively beaten the mighty Shannon. However Naas did not travel short on confidence, as they themselves had recorded a victory over Galwegians that same day. So everything was in place for a cracking game, and even if the weather was not favourable that is what we got.

Ballymena started the match with the benefit of the elements, but it took them ten minutes to take advantage of them. Naas were penalised for holding on in a ruck after winning a line-out. Although Mark Best missed the subsequent kick at goal, the home side regained possession from the resulting 22 drop out. Going through the phases impressively, they eventually broke down a stubborn Naas defence when Stephen Mulholland crashed over near the posts. The conversion for Best was a formality and gave Ballymena a 7-0 lead.

On 17 minutes Naas suffered the blow of losing prop Jason Harney to injury following a collision with Matthew Rea. The resulting scrum saw Naas penalised, and five minutes later when the away side were adjudged to have collapsed a maul, Ballymena elected for a scrum rather than take the easy three points on offer. Twice more referee Leo Colgan penalised Naas at the scrum, but surprisingly with a penalty try looming large, Ballymena decided to take the three points on offer, which Best had no problem in landing.

Naas needed to respond and on 26 minutes they did. After good breaks by Ryan Casey and Fionn Higgins, Peter Osborne was tackled high. From 40 metres out into the wind it looked an ambitious shot at goal, but Osborne made it look easy to reduce the margin to 10-3.

Six minutes before half-time Naas tried to run the ball out of defence. However they coughed up possession and the Ballymena scrum-half Dave Shanahan chipped in behind the Naas defence. Mark Best gathered and he was able to get over for the try. Although he missed the resulting conversion, this gave Ballymena a healthy 15-3 lead.

The remainder of the half was played in torrential rain and no further score occurred.

The Floodlights had to be turned on for the second half and Ballymena started it with serious intent. Only a marvellous tap tackle by Johne Murphy saved a certain try by Jonathan Rosborough, but the signs were ominous for the visitors. For 15 minutes the home side pounded away at the Naas line. There was a swagger about their play, they were totally on top and plenty more scores seemed inevitable.

And then something changed. David Benn managed to steal a line-out ball, Naas won a penalty giving Peter Osborne the chance to clear their lines. The away side slowly worked their way up the pitch, replacements Warren Larkin and Eoin Walsh began to exert their influence on proceedings and Ballymena looked a little rattled and surprised by it all.

On 62 minutes a great break by Johne Murphy made 30 metres taking play right up to the Ballymena line. The ball was quickly flashed out to Fionn Higgins who scored in the corner. Although the conversion was missed it was now game on at 15-8.

Shortly afterwards another break by Murphy put Naas back on the front foot. Ballymena had to give away a penalty to stop the Naas surge and although Peter Osborne narrowly missed the resulting shot at goal, the momentum in this match had totally swung.

The swagger about the Ballymena players was now gone. Panic was setting in through their ranks. Twice their out-half Glenn Baillie kicked the ball out on the full. Tackles were being missed, the game was there for the taking for Naas. 

Indeed this may have been the outcome but for an accident on 69 minutes when Fionn Higgins suffered a leg injury. The game was held up for over 30 minutes while he received medical attention, and both sides returned to the dressing rooms. All at Naas Rugby Club wish him a very speedy recovery.

Although both sides tried hard on the resumption of play, the momentum built up was now gone and the game fizzled out without either creating a scoring chance.

While it was disappointing to be beaten, Naas showed great character and resilience here. Early in the second half a big beating looked likely but Naas to their credit emerged with a losing bonus point. Not too many teams will leave Ballymena with anything this season, and that losing bonus point could be vital come the seasons end.

Next up for Naas is a home fixture against Buccaneers next Saturday. Kick-off is at 2.30pm, all are welcome and the All-Ireland Football Final Replay will be shown in the clubhouse afterwards.

Naas: 15. Fionn Higgins (Henry Bryce 69). 14. Rob O'Connor. 13. Johne Murphy. 12. Henry Bryce (Andrew Shanahan 67). 11. Fionn Carr. 10. Peter Osborne. 9. Max Whittingham. 1. Adam Coyle. 2. Charles Kings (Graham Reynolds 44). 3. Jason Harney (Dan O'Byrne 17). 4. Paul Monahan (Eoin Walsh 48). 5. David Benn. 6. Ryan Casey. 7. Will O'Brien. 8. Paulie Tolofua. (Warren Larkin 48).

Ballymena: 15. Rodger McBurney. 14. Jordan Foster. 13. Mark Best. 12. Martin Irwin. 11. Jonathan Rosborough. 10. Glenn Baillie. 9. Dave Shanahan. 1. Michael Lagan. 2. John Andrew. 3. Chris Cundell. 4. David Whann. 5. Kieran Treadwell. 6. Connor Smyth. 7. Stephen Mulholland. 8. Matthew Rea.



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