The points were shared at a sunlit Sandel Lodge on Saturday after the home XV and their neighbours Ballymoney had contributed to a game of fluctuating fortunes.
Although, during the closing stages, both camps missed clear opportunities to take the spoils, a draw was probably the most appropriate outcome on the day.
That said, few among the good sized crowd in attendance would have given much for Coleraine’s chances when the whistle blew for half-time with Ballymoney, already three tries to one in the ascendency were pressing strongly for a fourth touchdown and subsequent bonus point.
It had been a poor first 40 minutes of rugby from the Bannsiders. Handicapped by the absence of several players, lineout options were limited and with the scrums generally unsettled, the home players were seldom seen in attacking mode. Add to that a fringe defence that at times appeared to lack robustness and it was no surprise that the visitors, with three victories from three league starts, made hay.
Fullback McCartney had nudged his side ahead with a simple penalty from 22 metres in the seventh minute before two consecutive lineout steals underlined the home team’s difficulties. The initial one occurred on the Ballymoney 22, to halt a promising attack and minutes later, inside the Coleraine 22 the same thing happened and after a phalanx of ‘Money forwards drove over the line, Surgenor was credited with the score. McCartney added the extras with a fine kick from the left touchline.
A 15th minute penalty by Alan Gourley opened Coleraine’s account but virtually from the restart the visitors underlined their superiority at that juncture, scrumhalf Nelson exploiting some weak tackling before threading a neat grubber kick which left wing Strang pounced on for a well worked unconverted try. 3-15.
It had been an uncomfortable opening quarter for the home support but an excellent break by Scott Caithness brought play into the Ballymoney 22 and when McCartney was harried into making an error in attempting to clear his lines, Ronnie Caskey snaffled possession and left wing Nial Irwin showed great determination in forcing his way over for a try which Gourley converted. 10-15.
Once again the visitors’ riposte was telling, with McCartney the beneficiary of some weak tackling before touching down in the left corner.
The story of the second half was that of a reversal of fortunes with Ballymoney making only sporadic visits into the Coleraine ‘Red Zone’. Aided by an increasingly more dominant scrum, Kenny Calladine’s ball carrying became a feature of the game and the threat posed by the home threequarters became more evident. With 20 minutes remaining the pressure told, an advancing scrum providing the platform for Irwin and Caithness to handle before Calladine crashed over for a vital try.
Five minutes later Coleraine centre Neil Patterson weaved his way through the opposition midfield and the supporting Caithness dived over the line only to have the ball knocked from his grasp. It was a let off for the County Antrim boys, but with eight minutes remaining they conceded a third try. The elusive running of Alex Gourley created the space, Caithness, once again provided the link and Andy Neely surged over midway between the posts and the left hand touchline. Alan Gourley’s conversion attempt drifted wide and the teams were locked at 20-20.
There was still time for further activity at both ends of the pitch. A series of pick and drives earned the visitors a debatable penalty in a very kickable position but McCartney could not deliver and in the dying minutes Alex Gourley almost unlocked the Toon defence once more, but the scoreline remained unchanged and a hard fought game played in good spirit ended in stalemate.
Coleraine 1st XV have no game this Saturday and will no doubt be keen to use that time effectively, to prepare for the next challenge, the following Saturday when high flying CIYMS are the visitors. The Belfast club have recruited strongly during the summer and have been able to tempt several Senior players to switch allegiance. As was the case with last week’s visitors they will arrive with a 100% win record in the Kukri sponsored Qualifying Division 1 and a large crowd is expected
1st XV inactivity this coming weekend means a welcome spell in the limelight for what is already shaping up to be a very handy Coleraine 2nd XV. The Seconds, under the captaincy of Paul Shields have suffered just a single defeat this season and last Saturday lowered the colours of Ballynahinch 3rds, the hitherto unbeaten league leaders. This weekend they face another stiff challenge at home to Dungannon 3rd XV.
The other Senior fixtures this weekend feature
Coleraine 3rds at home to Rainey 3rds and Coleraine 4ths away to Newry 2nds.
All games have a 2.30pm start.