Victory in Scotland gives Braidmen boost ahead of new season

Ballymena Rugby Club.Ballymena Rugby Club.
Ballymena Rugby Club.
The training of the senior squad under the guidance of the new coaching team of Andy Graham, Nicky Wells and Brian Young has been intense and physical since it began in mid-July, but the satisfaction for both players and coaches stems from what happens on the field.

Last Saturday came the acid test.

A long standing fixture against Scottish side Hawick, which had not been played for a number of years, was revived, so a party of 22 players, along with the coaches and officials, travelled to the Borders to test their mettle against Hawick, recently promoted to the top division of Scottish rugby.

As a club we had thought long and hard about the wisdom of undertaking this fixture, given that we would be a number of players short from the potential final squad and that Hawick appeared to be formidable opposition, but in the end we decided that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages, and we decided to go ahead.

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A lot of planning goes into a venture like this, and all credit to Davy Smyth who put most of it together and to Glen Boyd who applied the finishing touches to ensure that everything would run smoothly – and it did!

The fairly numerous and knowledgeable Hawick supporters had done their homework, and knew that we had been relegated to Division 2A, and in the clubhouse before the game made it clear that they expected a comfortable victory from their team.

The small Ballymena contingent had travelled hopefully, not quite knowing what to expect from an untried team which contained a number of new faces. For the first 20 minutes of the game, played on a beautiful pitch and in perfect weather conditions, it looked as if the Hawick team might just do what their support confidently expected – deliver a convincing win, as for that period Ballymena scarcely laid a hand on the ball.

Only stubborn, committed defence kept them out, with Shay Macintosh pulling off a miraculous last ditch tackle to prevent a certain try which could well have changed the course of the game.

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However, as the game wore on the Ballymena team gained confidence, inspired by some solid scrummaging and the midfield defence of Darrell Montgomery and Callum Patterson, and as the Hawick backline came under increasing pressure, it began to make mistakes so that their talented runners made no headway.

At half time the score was deadlocked, with neither team able to break the other down, but after the break a superb run by the Hawick centre set up a try to give them a five point lead.

The pessimists among us thought that might mark the start of a Hawick surge, but the commitment and spirit of this young Ballymena team not only held Hawick at bay for the rest of the game, but enabled them to score two tries through Patterson and Hamilton and win the game 12-7. The last ten minutes of the game was all out Hawick pressure, but the tackles continued to be made and the Ballymena line was not crossed.

It was a long journey for one game of Rugby, but well worth the effort and a great boost to the confidence of the players and coaches as the leagues loom on the horizon.

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I enjoyed the trip, apart from those last ten minutes of the game, when the opposition threw everything at us, and might have snatched away the victory.

We have a training game against Malone on Saturday in Belfast and we now look forward to the first UCL game against Queen’s on 31st of this month.

Bill Wallace (Ballymena RFC chairman)