The rugby players of Ballymoney and Coleraine emerged from hibernation on the day after Boxing Day to resume their quest for league points in the Kukri sponsored Qualifying Division One.
Home team Ballymoney were keen to gain a measure of revenge for a 21-14 defeat at Coleraine earlier in the season but it was the visitors who prevailed, to complete the double over their neighbours.
Watched by a smaller than usual, holiday crowd – there will have been many supporters of both sides caught unawares by the speed with which a considerable depth of snow melted to reveal a perfectly playable surface—Coleraine made a statement of intent with a 5th minute try.
A Coleraine attack along their left flank came to a halt on the ‘Money 22 when a strong tackle forced the ball out of play. Ballymoney had the advantage of throwing in, but the home lineout misfired and Coleraine’s livewire openside, Bernard Mullan broke through before slipping a pass to the supporting Johnny Gault. The lock is one of Coleraine’s best ball carriers and proved unstoppable from 5 metres out, dragging two home players over the line with him. Scrum half Phil Coulter failed to add the extra points. 0-5
The home side, at this stage of the game, had the benefit of a stiff breeze but little was seen of Ballymoney as an attacking force during the first quarter of the game. Hooker David Ferguson, one third of a very impressive open field front row and Peter Bogle, lively in the second row, both went close to scoring as the visitors attempted to play with pace and variation.
The Toon defence proved to be resilient however and aided by several penalties, awarded when Coleraine players were judged to have been crossing, Ballymoney were able to carry play into Coleraine territory.This was the signal for a period of Ballymoney dominance that was to last until the half-time break. Inspired by player coach Jason Taggart the home players retained possession through numerous phases of play but, in truth, the Coleraine defence was seldom seriously discomfited, even when Coulter was shown a yellow card, with ten minutes of the half remaining.
The Coleraine scrum half must have inadvertently shot an albatross recently because he has now been carded on each of his last two outings and in both cases he has been unfortunate. This time the referee’s patience had been tested by a series of Coleraine transgressions prior to Coulter’s indiscretion.
Unsettled scrums have been a depressing feature of rugby games at all levels this season and this game was no exception so it was surprising to witness Ballymoney turn down kicks at goal and opt for set pieces, even before the temporary dismissal. That stategy failed to provide a breakthrough although right wing Chris Watson will have been disappointed to lose control of the ball as he attempted to touchdown in the corner following good work by Scott Nelson and Taggart. Ballymoney did put points on the scoreboard before the break when James Cleland accepted two further opportunities to kick goals and succeeded on both occasions to ease his side into a single point lead. H.T. 6-5
Coleraine began the second half confident that with the wind on their backs, they could regain the lead but the quality of play from both sides seldom reached the expected levels. Add to that, a plethora of penalties awarded in equal measure to both sides which effectively concentrated play within the middle third of the pitch and understandably, as the game entered its final quarter, Ballymoney harboured genuine hopes of victory.
Ironically, a promising Money lineout on the Coleraine 22 provided the stimulus for a resurgence from the visitors with scrum half Nelson being first enveloped and then carried 25 metres, rather speedily, towards the half way line by a fired up Bogle. The home XV were then penalised at the subsequent ruck. Adam Parke kicked for position and Coleraine set up camp deep inside the 22. This was the most sustained attack of the second half and Leslie George, Jarleth Carey, Gault and Parke all went close, only denied cigars by a determined Toon defence.
Crucially, however, Ballymoney did concede a penalty and with 10 minutes remaining, Coulter’s clean 25 metre strike from left of the posts sailed over the bar to give his side the lead. 6-8
The Coleraine advantage was far from conclusive but a strong finish in which replacement Steven Jefferson caught the eye,in both tight and loose play, ensured that the remainder of the action took place some distance from the Coleraine try-line and the visitors were able to celebrate a hard earned victory.
Coleraine; Jordan.G.; Henderson.J., Barbour.C.,Irwin.N.; Parke.A.,Coulter.P.; Carey.J., Ferguson.D., George.L.; Bogle.P., Gault.J.; Gibson.R., Hunt.W., Mullan.B.
Subs; Patterson.N.(for Irwin) Jefferson.S.(for George)