Two late touchdowns enhanced Ballyclare’s pole position in Kukri Qualifying Two, but they had to come from behind to defeat Grosvenor 39-27.
Scrum-half Colin Morrow and centre Jonny Reid got the vital scores that clinched the bonus-point victory, and extended their 100 per cent record.
Grosvenor had been rated underdogs against the high-flying White Hare lads, but when they nosed in front in the second half an upset seemed on the cards until misfortune struck.
Their influential number eight, Karayannis, had to retire injured, and then they had a player yellow-carded, and this allowed Bob Young’s men to recover and wrap up the points.
Young rang the changes in the back division for this clash, with Adam Wardrop, who normally plays at scrum-half, switched to full-back, allowing Gareth Byers to move forward to partner Reid on the wing, while Mo Finlay replaced David Lawther at prop, and Michael Kirk came in at wing-forward for the injured Gary Weatherup.
The new formation settled quickly and Gary Clotworthy opened the scoring from a Reid pass, with Byers converting.
Coard cancelled this one, but almost immediately the hosts restored their seven points advantage, when fly-half Niall Lawther broke from a line-out to cross for a fine solo try that was goaled by Byers.
Byers and Ball swapped penalties before Lawther, who was in inspirational form, put Wardrop in for an unconverted score that had Ballyclare leading 22-10.
Just before the interval Karayannis’s industry was rewarded when he forced his way over in the corner, and when Ball converted from the touchline Ballyclare turned round 22-17 ahead.
When Grosvenor surged in to the lead early in the second session alarm bells were ringing in the home camp.
Ball landed a penalty and then goaled Allen’s try to edge the city side in front for the first time, but moments later Grosvenor were down to fourteen players when Karayannis limped off injured. That was the turning point.
Morrow earned the crucial bonus point with his side’s fourth try following a Willie Logan thrust to regain the lead, and in the closing stages Ballyclare made full use of their numerical superiority with further unconverted scores by Reid and Morrow.
Ballyclare: A Wardrop; G Byers, J Reid, G Clotworthy, J Greer; N Lawther, C Morrow; A Boyd, A Wylie, M Finlay, R Boyd (C), G McKinstry, M Kirk, J McKinstry, W Logan.
Reflecting on the match, a Ballyclare official said: “Grosvenor provided our toughest examination to date, and they were very unfortunate to lose their most influential player for most of the second half.”
Man of the Match, centre Gary Clotworthy.
Match sponsor: Solicitors Reid Black & Co. Ball sponsor: Bill McMullan of Kare Bears.
Ballyclare’s 2nd XV collected Junior League Section 1 points when Dungannon III were unable to field a team, but the 3rd XV was thrashed 64-7 by Ballymena III at Eaton Park in a junior League Section 3 encounter.
The youth teams were in Donegal where the Under 17s lost 19-5, but the Under 15s won 17-15.
This Saturday the Qualifying 2 Match of the Day will be the Academy-Ballyclare clash at Roughfort, while the 2nd XV are at home to Coleraine II, and the Thirds entertain Ballymena IV.