Coleraine 1st XV travelled to play Ballymena 2nd XV in the Conference League, on Saturday and lost 29-44 in a game that had very much, an end of season feel to it.
The firm playing surface at Eaton Park was conducive to running rugby and both teams rose to the challenge, attempting to keep the ball in play as much as possible. The outcome was a game played at high tempo and if the tackling left a little to be desired at times, the total of 11 tries was adequate reward for the appreciative touchline support.
The visitors opened the scoring after seven minutes, retaining possession from the kick-off, and it was young wing Chris Archibald who crossed in the right corner with David Andrews bouncing his conversion off the crossbar, to add the extras and in the process presumably win this week’s challenge.
The home XV was level within a few minutes when their speedy left wing raced in from halfway, but Stephen Douglas restored Coleraine’s lead when Andy Neely tapped a penalty and the skipper was on his shoulder to drive through for an unconverted try.
A brace of converted tries from Ballymena in the space of four minutes saw the pendulum swing, but when strong play by Stevie Patterson at the breakdown, won a penalty for his side, Scott Caithness continued his team’s policy of running and after William Chestnutt had made good ground he fed Daniel Ramage and the lock forward crashed over for a well deserved try which Andrews converted.
The scores kept coming in the second period. Early on, a promising Coleraine attack broke down on halfway and an alert home three-quarter sped away for an unconverted try, aided it must be said by some sloppy defensive work from Coleraine. The visitors, however, were undaunted and a patient built attack culminated in Andrews charging over for his side’s fourth try in the 50th minute.
At this point in the proceedings one of the Ballymena props was forced to retire, feeling and looking distinctly unwell. The scrums consequently became uncontested and a couple of minutes later Coleraine was also reduced to 14 men when the busy Colin Brown suffered an ankle injury and was carried from the field.
Coleraine continued to attack the home line with conviction and another sustained offensive threatened to produce a score. It did, but at the wrong end of the pitch, a home player picking off an ambitious double skip pass on the Ballymena 22 and running clear.
Play returned to the home ‘22 and after Alex Gourley had earned the Sandel Lodge boys a scrum five metres out from the line, Douglas picked and in typically determined fashion, forced his way over for his second score.
Unfortunately the gap could not be closed any further and after the dangerous home backs had punished some undistinguished defending by their opponents, with two more tries, one of which was converted, referee Richard Kerr brought a highly entertaining game to an end.
Coleraine: Gourley Alan, Archibald, Gourley Alex, Patterson, Brown,
Andrews D, Caithness, Hogg, Evans, Chestnutt, Ramage, Neely, Smyth, Douglas, Neely.