With this season’s league drawing to a close and with the cup competitions looming, Ballymoney arrived at Rugby Avenue this Saturday to compete against Coleraine’s U13s, 15s and 17s, but the spotlight was very much on pitch one as the U17s took to the field in their penultimate league game.
For Ballymoney it was a yet another competitive derby fixture that’s always played with extra passion but for Coleraine it meant a win would seal a much deserved league title and for some in the squad it meant for a second time in three years.
They say ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ and that more or less summed up Coleraine’s approach in what was potentially a decisive derby fixture. On a great day for winter rugby theses two local rivals hit the ground running although from the off it looked very much that the game would be won at close quarters and any hopes of a demonstration of pretty and fluid rugby was soon abandoned.
As is with all Coleraine v Ballymoney meetings, the game proved to be a typically aggressive and abrasive affair when both sides just knuckled down to play with their hearts as much as their heads.
Coleraine dominated the first half, counter rucking Ballymoney off the ball on many occasions. Twenty minutes in and a quick tap by scrum half Stephen from a penalty 15 yards out saw the ball whipped quickly through the hands to allow winger Joseph Lundy to touch down near the corner. Towards half time Coleraine’s second try came from an outstanding solo effort from number 8 Ryan Purdy, setting off on one of his usual runs, breaking several tackles to score under the posts. The try was successfully converted by fly half Sam Beattie to give Coleraine a 12pt to nil platform at half time.
At the restart Ballymoney upped their game and pressured Coleraine for the bulk of the half but despite enjoying much possession, they failed to capitalise on any chances they managed to create, eventually scoring their only try of the game five minutes from the end. Whilst the second half appeared to belong to the visitors, it was a Coleraine team who scrummed and tackled with more energy.
Coleraine’s front row of props Michael McLaughlin and David Whiteside, and hooker Ruairi Sweeney were superb throughout doing exactly what coach Daniel McAuley asked of them, pushing Ballymoney off their own scrum ball on occasions. Second rows Reece Ramage and Ross Wade were fearless with the former tacking and chasing like a man possessed all afternoon.
The back Callum McAleese and Ryan Purdy along with the silent assassin Alistair Jinx who played his best game of the season, gave their Ballymoney counterparts a lesson in the breakdown.
In the backline everyone played at the intensity needed to keep the bigger Ballymoney backline at bay. Joseph Lundy on the wing was a constant threat with ball in hand as was centre Alistair Irwin and full back Stephen Douglas. Sam Beattie at outhalf continues to develop and has all the skill set to be a fine outhalf, and his partner at 9 Stephen Irwin played intelligently. Centre Chrissy Boreland and winger Jamie McCracken also played their parts in this vital victory.
In the end it was the team with most to play for who took the spoils in this bruising derby encounter. The Coleraine U17s have played each game with passionate consistency which is as much a testament to the excellent coaching team of Daniel McAuley, Seamus Sweeney, Cameron Jinx and Gareth McCollum. Commenting at the end of the game head Coach Dan McAuley said: “I want to thank the players to a man for believing in themselves and for bringing league triumph to the Club. As we now enter the play off cup season, I’m confident that they can go on to bring more honours to Rugby Avenue.”
Regrettably Ballymoney were unable to front up with full squads for their U13 and U15 games, relying on Coleraine to make up numbers with their replacements.
Both games eventually kicked off but Coleraine simply over-ran their opposition in a repeat of the away fixture.
With one outstanding game in the league left against Ballyclare all squads are switching into Cup mode and preparation begins for a good run with two friendly fixtures against Ballymena to look forward to.