BALLYCLARE Rugby Club are now nine points clear at the top in Qualifying 2 following a fine 22-10 win against Grosvenor.
Bangor and Enniskillen now trail the White Hare lads, and this weekend’s clash with Bangor at The Cloughan will be a make-or-break affair for the Seasiders.
Coach Bob Young had to make one change for the trip to Belmont to take on Grosvenor, with JJ Baird coming in on the wing for Mark Weatherup, and they started confidently.
Baird and prop Rory Henderson were almost over in the opening minutes during which Graeme McKinstry was prominent in the loose exchanges.
The city lads defended well, but eventually the home side forged ahead when the Boyd brothers, Al and Rob, set it up for hooker Craig Wallace to score his fifth try since getting the call-up to the senior side three weeks ago.
Full-back Gareth Byers converted this one but was unable to repeat the performance when centre Stuart Cusack crossed in the corner following good build-up involving fly-half Niall Lawther and Wallace.
Centre James Jackson almost increased the lead but he was held up just short after taking a pass from McKinstry, so Ballyclare turned round leading 12-0 despite having been reduced to 14 men when Baird was sent to the sin-bin.
The hosts just about deserved to be ahead, but Grosvenor soon reduced the deficit when they won a five-metre scrum and then forced their way over.
Al Boyd increased the lead when he collected a pass from Byers and battled his way over the line for an unconverted touchdown.
Cusack almost got his name on the scorecard but he dropped the ball inside the 22 and later another handling error cost Lawther a score.
Ballyclare finally nailed the crucial bonus-point when wing-forward Willie Logan put in Michael Rainey and the former Dungannon skipper extended the lead to 22-5, but the visitors had the final say when they scored their second unconverted try near the end.
Ballyclare: G Byers; JJ Baird, S Cusack, J Jackson, N Loughlin; N Lawther (C), C Morrow; A Boyd, C Wallace, R Henderson, G McKinstry, R Boyd, W Logan, G Weatherup, M Rainey.
The 2nd XV were scheduled to play Coleraine II, and the Thirds should have played Queen’s III in Crawford Cup clashes, but both were postponed and are likely to be rearranged for this weekend at The Cloughan.
Meanwhile, the senior side has received a home draw in the Towns’ Cup, with Ards II due at The Cloughan on January 5.