City of Armagh faced a stern test on Saturday when they entertained Ballymena at the Palace Grounds in the Ulster Senior League. Both clubs had won their opening fixture earlier in the season.
Since then, Ballymena have lost just one match in the Division 1B of the All Ireland League and also reached the final of the First Trust Senior Cup. Armagh have won 4 and lost 3 in Division 2B making the visitors clear favourites.
Following a minute’s silence in remembrance of the Paris victims and the death of the legendary New Zealand winger, Jonah Lomu, the game kicked off in perfect conditions.
From the start, Ballymena took the initiative and Armagh found themselves pinned in their own half. Sustained pressure led to the opening try for Ballymena, scored by second row Conor Smyth after only 5 minutes on the clock. The conversion put the visitors ahead 0 – 7 and they continued to dominate territory seeking a second score. Armagh held out till the twenty minute mark when full back James Beattie broke through two tackles and ran in from the half way line. Outhalf Magrath converted and Armagh were behind 0 – 14 and thus it remained with Armagh defending bravely until the half time whistle went.
The first period of the second half was a repeat of the first with Ballymena’s strong pack of forwards disrupting Armagh’s possession and their backline threatening at every opportunity.
Ten minutes into the second half, a scrum to Ballymena close to the Armagh line led to a try by number eight Rea which was unconverted and the visitors now led 0 – 19.
On sixty minutes Ballymena scored what was to be their final try of the afternoon. Centre Paddy James rounded off a backline move in the Armagh 22 to score in the corner and the conversion made the scoreline 0 – 26.
Armagh probably played their best rugby in the final quarter and their backs and forwards combined to put Ballymena under some pressure. With five minutes remaining, Armagh’s endeavour was rewarded when scrum half Harry Doyle darted in for a try under the posts. Outhalf Pollock converted to make the score 07 – 26. In the final minute Armagh should have had a second try but a careless pass led to the opportunity being missed.
The final whistle went with Ballymena victorious 07 – 26 but the home team can be comforted in restricting the visitors to only four tries during the match.
The Armagh coaching staff were emphatic that the afternoon’s efforts were not all in vain and were keen to stress that the home defence had generally been good throughout the match. Only for a couple of lapses in concentration the result would have been much closer. Also, the way in which the home side rallied in the closing quarter of the game was pleasing.
Next week sees the Armagh side travel south to Munster to play Cork side, Sundays Well in the All-Ireland League. Both teams are level on nineteen points so it promises to be a very close and crucial game in Cork.
Photo Credits: Ken Redpath