Ballynahinch RFC Notes: Hinch Start Ulster Bank League With An Away Win!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I XV 27 v Buccanners 17!!! Report & Action Images LIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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A strong start to both halves laid the foundations for Ballynahinch’s 27-17 victory over Buccaneers in the opening round of this season’s Ulster Bank League Division 1B played in near ideal conditions at sunny Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. On an emotional day for Hinch, their first outing since the tragic deaths of Nevin Spence, his brother Graham and their father Noel, one minute of applause was observed prior to kick off to commemorate the deceased.
Both teams fielded much-changed line-ups from last season with each depending primarily on youth. Consequently, the game began at a helter skelter pace and was hugely entertaining in the opening half with play moving from end to end to keep the modest attendance enthralled. The second half was somewhat stop-start with the northerners grabbing the vital score, a 44th minute try, that deflated the Pirates (who sorely missed Kolo Kiripati after the break) somewhat. Buccs put in a rousing finish but lacked the guile and patience to unlock a steadfast visitors’ defence.

In a very lively opening, Ballynahinch had the assistance of a diagonal breeze and they were quickly out of the starting blocks to pin Buccs deep in their own half. A missed tackle in midfield gave the visitors an overlap and they did not spurn it with Aaron Ferris getting in on the left before dotting down close to the uprights after 7 minutes with Michael Lawton adding the conversion.

But the Pirates steadied their ship with skipper Kiripati to the fore and, five minutes later, good attacking breaks by Conor FitzGibbon and Callum Boland forced Hinch to concede a penalty which Jack Carty converted. On 15 minutes Billy Henshaw made a wonderful catch to link up with Boland but then Eoghan Grace held on too long to possession to concede a penalty but debutant Lawton missed from a kickable position.

James Tormey made a splendid rob on his own 22 as the game entered the second quarter and, soon afterwards, Buccs were now applying their first concerted spell of pressure. The Ulstermen coughed up a number of close-in penalties but held their line intact until Kiripati caught them off-guard with a quickly-tapped penalty and a smartly-taken try on the right. Carty was unable to add the conversion but landed a 27th minute penalty to put Buccaneers 11-7 ahead.

Lawton and Carty then traded penalties before the home side suffered two key blows. Kiripati, who had been very prominent, sustained an ankle injury just two minutes before the interval, being replaced by Rory Walshe. Then, in the final move of the half, Hinch capitalised on some disorganisation in the home ranks and Aaron Cairns dived over at the posts for a try which Lawton converted to leave Ballynahinch 17-14 ahead at halftime.

Try-scorer Cairns was replaced by Blane McIlroy for the second half with David McGuigan coming on for Robert Greer. Driven on by their captain Chris Stevenson, Hinch were first on the offensive after the restart and a good spell of pressure was finished off close in for a try by Chris Napier. Lawton, proving to be a decent signing, landed a fine conversion from wide on the left to open up a ten points gap between the teams.

The third quarter lacked the flow and sparkle of the earlier exchanges, with a number of injury stoppages not helping matters. With the visitors forced to make a number of replacements, uncontested scrums followed from the 50th minute. Hinch almost grabbed a bonus try on 54 minutes but Lawton was forced into touch just short of the home line. Buccs struggled to make an impact in this quarter but a high tackle by the fiercely competitive Stevenson yielded a 62nd minute penalty just outside the 22 and Carty duly slotted over to narrow Buccs arrears to 17-24.

This score rejuvenated the Athlone outfit and, spurred on by their supporters, they threw everything at the northerners. John O’Brien now began to get better ball and his mazy running caused constant problems for Hinch in the closing period. Buccs best try chance came on 70 minutes with fullback O’Brien making a super break to link up with David Heffernan who off-loaded to Henshaw. The Hinch defence was stretched but the home winger got nailed just short when a pass to an over-lapping teammate would surely have resulted in a try. Boland and Carty also sniped but just could not outwit the Hinch rearguard where Adam Craig put in a great 72nd minute tackle to deny Conor Finn.
Buccaneers were now attacking in droves, forcing Ballynahinch into desperate defending, which eventually drew the ire of referee Olly Hodges who yellow-carded Harry McAleese on 75 minutes for some persistent slowing of the ball. Buccs opted not to kick this straight-forward penalty that would have at least secured a bonus point. But Hinch got away with not having a full pack for the subsequent uncontested scrum (as they had on a couple of other occasions) and the Pirates did not make best use of this opportunity. Then salt was rubbed in home wounds when, in the final counter-attack of the match, Barry Digby obstructed Lawton as the Hinch winger chased his own kick ahead. The Buccs substitute somehow escaped a visit to the sin bin but harsher punishment befell the midlanders when Lawton tapped over the resultant penalty with the final kick of an exciting contest to deny Buccaneers even a losing bonus point.

This was a game that could well have gone either way with two teams willing to move the ball. Buccs had plenty possession but lacked guile and patience when it was needed, while the injury forcing Kiripati off was pivotal to their defeat. Hinch were that bit better in recycling possession to grab a win that will doubtless give them an invaluable lift at this difficult time for the club.

BUCCANEERS:- J.O’Brien; B.Henshaw, C.Finn, C.FitzGibbon, C.Boland; J.Carty, M.Dolan; J.Roets, E.O’Brien, P.Reilly; J.Tormey, M.Kearney; D.Heffernan, E.Grace & K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements:- R.Walshe (for Kiripati, inj. 38 mins), M.Staunton (for Tormey, 45 mins), J.Tormey (for Roets, 55 mins), J.Roets (for Reilly, 70 mins), B.Digby (for Dolan, 77 mins), J.Connolly and D.Griffith.

BALLYNAHINCH:- A.Craig; M.Lawton, S.Morrow, R.Harte, A.Ferris; H.McAleese, A.Cairns; C.Stevenson (captain), A.Harper, Jonny Simpson; James Simpson, C.Napier; R.Greer, P.Pritchard & M.Graham. Replacements:- C.Carey (for Jonny Simpson, 34 mins), B.McIlroy (for Cairns, h/t), D.McGuigan (for Greer, h/t), Jonny Simpson (for Carey, inj. 45 mins), R.McBurney (for Ferris, 48 mins) and M.Nelson (for Jonny Simpson, 50 mins).

REFEREE:- Olly Hodges (Munster).

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