RUGBY REVIEW: Ballyclare exit Towns’ Cup at first-round stage

Gary Clotworthy scored Ballyclare's opening points with a penalty in the Towns' Cup defeat to Ballymena II. INNT 47-009-FP
Gary Clotworthy scored Ballyclare's opening points with a penalty in the Towns' Cup defeat to Ballymena II. INNT 47-009-FP
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Despite a battling performance, an understrength Ballyclare side was knocked out of the Powerdale Towns’ Cup against Ballymena II on Saturday.

For this first-round tie, coach Mike McKeever had to find replacements in the back division for Dave Clarke, Stuart Cusick and Niall Lawther, while Gary Weatherup was missing from the pack, and their short-comings were exposed in the second half.

The White Hare men were still in contention at half time at Eaton Park when they trailed 7-3, but Ballymena ran in three second-half tries to coast to a 31-8 win.

Ballyclare’s woes started as early as the fifth minute when stand-in fly-half Robert Smith retired with a shoulder injury after challenging for a high ball, with Kris James coming off the bench at number 10.

Undaunted, the underdogs drew first blood when Gary Clotworthy slotted over a penalty from 35 metres, but the lead changed hands when the Braid men scored a converted try and the nearest the visitors came to altering the scoreline before the break was a failed long-range Clotworthy penalty.

Against a stronger, heavier pack, Ballyclare needed points on the board early in the second half, but the home side proceeded to take control.

A penalty and two converted tries during the third quarter left The Cloughan men trailing 24-3.

But Ballyclare replied with one of the best scores of the afternoon. Michael Rainey, who had an outstanding game at number eight, picked up at the back of a scrum and fed scrum-half Andy Watson. He neatly off-loaded to full-back Adam Butler who hurtled past the cover for a well worked try. James’ conversion attempt bounced off the upright, and then the home side rounded things off with a final converted try.

Ballyclare 1st XV: A Butler, R Tweed, G Clotworthy, JJ Baird, J Reid; R Smith, A Watson; D Lawther, R Scott, A Boyd, J McKinstry, W Logan, R Boyd, P Robinson, M Rainey.

Replacements: K James, D Chambers.

It was a bad cup day for Ballyclare with the Second and Third XVs also biting the dust.

The Seconds lost 17-10 to Banbridge III in the Crawford Cup, with Gareth Byers scoring all his side’s points.

The Thirds were knocked out of the Forster Plate in Lurgan.

On Saturday, Ballyclare return to Qualifying 1 action with a home game against promotion hopefuls, Instonians.