Braidmen exit Senior Cup at first hurdle

BALLYMENA had a tough first round draw in the Ulster Senior Cup against Harlequins on Saturday.

The home draw should have meant advantage Ballymena but on the day the home side did not rise to the occasion and lost by 24 points to 21.

The visitors started strongly and took the game to Ballymena but they coped well and the forwards got a lot of possession.

Despite all this Ballymena had their moments but an early indication of a further Ballymena handicap was that they were penalised quite often at the breakdown making life easy for the visitors to clear their lines.

Eventually Quins took the lead in the 12th minute when the scrum half attempted a clearance but lost the ball and Ballymena were penalised in front of the posts giving Keith Pyper an easy three points.

Three minutes later the home side were penalised again and Andrew Ferguson received a yellow card. Fortunately for the home side Pyper was just short with his effort.

The visitors were spurred on by these efforts and took the game to Ballymena. Ballymena lost possession on two occasions allowing Quins No. 2 to break into the home 22. He lost the ball and knocked on. From the scrum Ballymena had possession but promptly lost it.

They then gave away a penalty and Quins went for the corner. They won the line-out and drove over for a try but yet again Pyper missed the conversion. Almost half an hour gone and the home side were eight points down.

Quins were in the Ballymena 22 and the game was petering out to half time. A scrum was awarded but then the referee awarded a penalty to Quins. It was almost a repeat of the previous try. Into the corner, Quins possession, driving, scrum down, Quins possession, number 8 Chris McCarey breaks away to score and no conversion.

Ballymena started off the second half well with Gareth Fisher's simple rugby paying dividends. When the forwards won the ball he quickly gave it to the backs and Ballymena were able to run at Quins.

This type of rugby quickly produced the goods when Peter Budina made a good break and offloaded to Luke Marshall. He still had some to do but he evaded two or three players to score under the posts and then converted the try.

Ballymena were more positive and had a lot more of the ball but then they gave away a penalty on their 10 metres line. Pyper opted to go for goal but after his previous efforts it didn't bode well. However he put it over to increase their lead to nine points.

Further disaster befell Ballymena Just after the hour when from a lineout in the Ballymena half Quins got possession and after a number of good phases Keith Pyper went over in the corner but missed the conversion.

Less than 20 minutes left and Ballymena were trailing by 14 points. Ballymena came back into the game a bit more and were playing with a bit more urgency. However the old achilles heel of giving away penalties kept rearing its ugly head.

Ballymena brought on a few replacements and this seemed to spur them on. Alan Smyth came on and was positive down the right wing. He made a great run and kicked the ball over the top before being late tackled by Colin Atkinson who got a yellow card.

Ballymena put the ball into the corner and won the line-out. They drove the visitors back and Sam McKinney broke off the ruck to score under the posts and Luke Marshall added the conversion. Seven points behind and less than 10 minutes to go.

From the kick off Ballymena got possession and they ran the ball. After about 8 good phases they were deep in the Quins 22. Quick ball was moved to Peter Budina who made good ground before passing to Kyle Moore who scored under the posts and Marshall again converted to make the teams level with four minutes left.

However disappointment for Ballymena. Right from the kick off Quins went on the attack and Ballymena were penalised at the breakdown in front of the posts. Keith Pyper was not going to miss this one and he put Quins back in the lead with time running out. The next time Quins got possession they kept it tight and made sure Ballymena could not get the ball.

After the disappointment of a first round exit, there are now three matches in the AIB AIL to concentrate on.

This weekend they go to Galway and a win there would see Ballymena still in with a chance of a top four finish and secure their place in the league for next year.

A loss there will make their last two matches, at home to Dungannon and away to Ballynahinch, must win matches to avoid getting drawn into the relegation battle.

Ballymena: R McBurney; P Budina, K Moore, C Brigl, S Castle; L Marshall, G Fisher ; J Carson, J Taggart, A Ferguson, C Smyth, B Young, W McKay, P Smith, S McKinney. Subs (all used): P Campbell, S Mulholland, A Smyth, R Fisher, S Shawe.