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In last weeks preview of the Northern Bank Ulster Schools Rugby Cup (Fourth Round) Ballyclare High School`s opponents Armagh Royal were reckoned to be a “more than useful side” and in a real nail biter of a cup tie at the High School grounds on Saturday morning this description at times seemed to be an understatement when for long periods especially in the first half the boys from the County Armagh were in the ascendancy. Both teams had been deservedly seeded to this stage of the competition and at the full time whistle it was very obvious how relieved the Ballyclare team and coaches Soper and Shaw were by the ecstatic celebrations on the pitch in front of a big crowd of supporters from both schools.
The home team had to be rearranged just prior to the kick off after winger Butler had a car accident on the way to the school-his place was taken by Peter Ferguson who had plenty of experience on the side in the past couple of seasons. Armagh had a big strong pack with an outstanding back row, a snappy scrum half in Wright and a dangerous centre Hooks whose father Kenny Hooks was the coach and a former Ulster and Irish three quarter. The visitors started strongly but were repulsed as Irvine cleared from a penalty only for the Clare pack to be off side and Wright kicked to the home 22. Holmes managed to get in a clearance kick and a strong run from Beattie took the Ballyclare boys up to the Armagh 22 for the first time.Douglas then kicked ahead and the home forwards drove towards the line where initially Darling was held up but Millar got the ball back for the industrious Beattie beat the defence to score out wide with the conversion attempt by Holmes falling short. Armagh came right back as Wright was narrowly wide from a penalty and this was the stsrt of a concerted period of pressure and dominance from the visitors. Wright had a second penalty which was successful to reduce the Clare lead to 5-3 and minutes later after Ballyclare seemed to be harshly penalised the Armagh fly half gave his team a deserved 6-5 lead. At this stage the home pack was having to work hard in the loose to hold the strong Armagh forwards who were dominating the lineouts as some of the home throwing was going awry. But good work by Irvine led to a penalty to the home side and Holmes was on target to regain the lead at 8-6. But a break by the Armagh scrum half created the opening for Hooks to go in as a Clare player missed a tackle and the try ,not converted gave the visitors a deserved yet narrow 11-8 lead on half time.
Armagh kept up the momentum early in the second half and continued to have more posession but Holmes cleared well only for his team to be penalised at the next lineout. Wright was just short of the posts with his kick. Next more good play from Irvine took play up to the opposite 22 and the Ballyclare pack drove to the Armagh line with Beattie held up from getting a second try.AT this stage the momentum began to swing back to Ballyclare as twice the home forwards were held up close to the line. The pack continued to lay seige to the line with a series of drives instead of moving the ball along the threequarters. The efforts were strength sapping and eventually Allen ,Kelly and Brolly came on from the bench. This period of home pressure continued to be relentless as the pack moved to the left of the posts and were rewarded when Dailly got the vital score and Holmes added the points to take the Clare boys ahead 15-11. This created a degree of breathing space and at the restart the Armagh scrum half was caught and the home pack drove back in to the Armagh 22 but Reid was unlucky not to hold the pass. Now into the closing few minutes Armagh made a powerful effort to win the game and moved the ball wide out on the left side where Reaney broke deep into the home 22. If he had gone on instead of looking for support he could have had the match winning try but hesitation was enough to allow Millar to clear the threat and Ballyclare heldout for a narrow victory. This had been a great contest and had lived up to the billing of the likely tie of the round–credit must go to both sides in tricky ground conditions and on the day the Royal School had more than played their part but congratulations to Ballyclare who now have a tough draw in the quarter finals having to travel to Osborne Park to meet Belfast Inst on Saturday25th February.
Ballyclare High Team-Jonny Holmes;James Beattie,Eddie McKee,Jonny Douglas,Peter Ferguson;Jack Irvine,Chris Millar;Jonny Craig,Marc Logan,Paddy Reid,Scott Barr,Matthew Dailly;Jordan McKinstry,Grant Bartley (capt),Jonny Darling ;Subs-Matthew Brolly,David Lawther,David Kelly,David Allen,Andrew Eastop,James Greer,Jordan Crawford

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