REPORT Randalstown 2s v Ballymena 3s and 3s v Harlequins 3s

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Ballymena 3rd XV 13 Randalstown 2nd XV 17
A new year and new competitions for both Randalstown 2nds and 3rds. Having gone all the way in the Forster Cup last season to be defeated at the final hurdle by Ballymena 5ths the seconds must now, by virtue of their promotion to Junior 3, compete in the Crawford Cup.
They were first off the blocks at Eaton Park on Wednesday night under floodlights to accommodate a busy Saturday schedule at Ballymena, whilst the 3rds newly promoted to Junior 6 had the misfortune to draw Quins 3s, sitting pretty at the top of Junior 4 in the first round of the Forster Cup.
The seconds took the pitch against a ‘virtual’ Ballymena 3rd XV, but that’s a debate for another day. As they adjusted to life under floodlights a series of penalties saw the home side take an early lead and go 6-0 up with about 15 minutes on the clock. Despite ‘Town’s best efforts Ballymena were gaining advantage as the visitors were continually on the wrong end of penalty decisions.
Thankfully as the clock ticked on towards the end of the half ‘Town were awarded a penalty and Turner kicked long to touch. From the lineout captain Hyndman shoved over in the corner to narrow the deficit to 6-5.
It was a tight affair and it took 20 minutes in the second half before ‘Town were able to penetrate the home defence. Daryl McGarry, a late substitute for the injured Orr, broke through out wide for a fine individual effort.
Ballymena weren’t done and hit back quickly with a converted try to retake the lead. ‘Town were let off with a further penalty opportunity which sailed wide but they continued to make inroads and when McWhirter came on he introduced a certain sparkle. Having gathered and chipped, the ball just failed to bounce kindly for him and a scoring opportunity went a begging. He was inspirational again shortly after though as a long punt and pacey follow up took him very close, and he managed to release Murray to jink in for a well deserved try which he duly converted.
A few of the other games fell victim to the weather over the weekend so the seconds must now wait to see what the next round brings.
Manager Sloane was very pleased with the result and singled out Phil McLean in the pack for an outstanding performance. In the backs Murray got through a huge workload, catching running and kicking up to his usual high standard. It was great to see McGarry playing to his potential, and David McWhirter returning from a very serious injury provided a wow factor in the closing stages. Turner and McGoldrick have developed a great working half back relationship and probably don’t receive sufficient plaudit for their very efficient running of the Randalstown game. The pack as a whole deserve credit. At times they struggled to contain the bulkier home pack in the scrum, but the lineout functioned well to compensate. All in all a good day at the office. This young ‘Town side have taken a few weeks to adjust to life at the next level but on the night they always looked like the winning side.

Harlequins 42 v Randalstown 0 (Forster Cup)
This was always going to be a huge ask for Randalstown 3rds as they sit mid table in section 6 and had to travel to the current leaders in section 4.
The weather made open rugby difficult with a strong wind and heavy rain spoiling both sides efforts to move the ball. The match started with the home side on the attack but good defence from the Randalstown backs kept them out. Randalstown had a few opportunities to score but poor handling let them down. Fergal Connon and Martin Asquith were prominent in the pack and Jack Gilbert was settling well at scrum half.
After 30 minutes Quins opened the scoring with a well taken try, which was quickly followed by two more scores to leave the half time score 21-0. This was not a true reflection of the efforts of the Randalstown fifteen who put up a great performance against their more experienced opponents.
Injuries to key players including Huw Bishop meant that Randalstown played most of the second half with only 14 men. With this advantage the home side were able to run in further scores, however the last quarter of the game was all Randalstown with both forwards and backs putting pressure on the Quins line. While this was disappointing for the 3rds in proportion to the effort displayed they will now have a chance to progress in the Forster Plate and gain more experience which will stand them well.
Aaron Murray was pleased with the overall team effort and was already planning for next week ‘s game against Dungannon 4ths at home.
The seconds travel to Ballymoney 2nds on Saturday afternoon, while the firsts are back in action at Larne.
The December schedule is full on for both 1sts and 2nds as they are now in action for the next 4 Saturdays (weather permitteing) while the 3rds will get a chance to draw their breath briefly with a break on 12th December. As usual all support is warmly welcomed at Neillsbrook.

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