Saturday 13th March. Sue Roper reports from the Palace grounds.
Armagh faced tough opponents Ballymoney in their last home league match of the season. The third match in 7 days and Armagh would have to be on top form to maintain their goal for promotion. A change in the front row saw Peter Lamb in for James Johnston, but this was only a slight problem for the first couple of line outs.
The home side began with a series of well thought out moves and gradually made their way up to the Ballymoney 22. But this was a game of good runs and equally good defence and Ballymoney proceeded to thwart every Armagh advance.
Following along period of end to end play with good breaks and good defence from both teams, a superb interception by Andrew Willis saw him run up the line to score the first of the game. The angle was too deep for out half Adam Gowing and the score was 5 nil.
The kick off saw Ballymoney kick their game up a gear and attack Armagh straight back into their own half. It was a game that seemed to centre around the forwards and the middle of the pitch. The scrums were even and the line outs were being played according to throw. Another interception this time by captain James Morton took the ball to the half and Armagh continued to make their way up the field.
A short line out ball from Lamb and Armagh were once again on the front foot. An swiftly taken scrum and the ball popped out the base of the scrum and into the hands of the captain who proceeded to battle past two opponents and take the ball over the line. Gowing made the conversion look easy to the home crowd and gave Armagh a two try lead at 12-0.The half ended with Armagh battling a strong Ballymoney charge and only allowed the visitors on the score board with a mistake in the 22.
The half time score stood at 12-3 and Armagh spectators knew that only a bonus point try win would be good enough.
Armagh started the second half with renewed pressure and the dancing feet of Willis claimed the third of the game shortly afterwards. Gowing could not make the conversion and the points tally march on to 17-3.
Armagh made their first substitution of the game when Peter Elliot came off to allow Leigh Manu on into the centre. With fresh legs in the middle of the field Armagh could concentrate more on their easy running game.
But Ballymoney were to cause more problems with the Armagh game as they capitalised on the handling errors from the home side.
At this stage tempers flared beside the side line. When the dust had settled an Armagh and a Ballymoney player were sent to the sin bin.
The visitors took solid advantage of this break in the Armagh chain of command and moved steadily up the pitch. With a final push Ballymoney crossed the line, but could not take the full seven points on offer.
This score was the jolt that Armagh needed and when both teams were restored to full strength, they pushed hard towards the 5m line. Coleraine began to defend well, but Armagh continued to recycle the ball and the visitors allowed themselves too many mistakes. The referee saw too much of this and awarded Armagh a penalty try. Gowing made an easy kick from infront of the posts and the bonus point was secured.
With the points tally reading 24-8 Ballymoney went again on the attack and when they were stopped by some more excellent Armagh defence. Tempers again flared as a Ballymoney player was sent from the field for a headbutt.
At the death of the game Armagh had pushed the visitors back up to their 10m line. A quick interception and run and the Armagh players were chasing a Ballymoney score. With the kick in front of the posts it was certain that the score would be converted.
The final score stood at 24-15 and Armagh had secured another bonus point win and are now looking forward to the final league match against Limavady on St. Patrick’s Day.