Photo by Yazz Coyle
Ulster Bank AIL Division 1B
Naas resumed their Ulster Bank AIL campaign with an away trip to Ballymena last Saturday afternoon. Travelling to face the club that have produced the likes of Willie John McBride and Syd Millar was always going to be a tough assignment, but the prevailing circumstances made this fixture even more difficult. That is because Ballymena went into game second from bottom and therefore in desperate need of the points. To help their cause they fielded a side packed full of Ulster Academy players, with the likes of Clive Ross (48 caps for Ulster), David Shanahan (18 caps) and Ross Kane (11 caps) also picked to aid their cause.
On a dry, crisp day Naas made their intentions known early. They endeavoured to run the ball at every opportunity in a bid to tire out what was a massive Ballymena pack. After soaking up an initial period of home pressure, Naas settled into the game and were the better side in the opening quarter.
They had a chance to take the lead on 14 minutes. James Cherrington superbly robbed a ball at the base of a Ballymena ruck and was then tackled by a player in an offside position. Johne Murphy kicked the penalty into touch and from the subsequent line-out Naas set up a driving maul. This was collapsed by the home side and referee Chris Harrington immediately awarded Naas another penalty. This time Peter Osborne elected to have a shot at goal, but his effort drifted narrowly wide.
The strength of the Ballymena scrum looked onimous for Naas and it led to them opening the scoring after 23 minutes. They drove Naas off the ball at a scrum on the half-way line winning a penalty in the process. This was dispatched into the corner, and following the line-out they went through a succession of phases before Azur Allison dived over to give them a five point lead.
Although the conversion was missed they only had to wait eight minutes before scoring again. The impressive James Beattie made a great midfield break which took play into the Naas 22, this was followed by a series of drives by the forwards, which created the space for Rodger McBurney to score beside the posts. This time Callum Patterson made no mistake with the conversion and the lead was now 12.
Within another five minutes it was 19. Some great running and off loading by Shanahan, McBurney and David Whann took play from the Ballymena line to half-way.
Naas were then penalised for hands in the ruck and the home side again kicked into touch. From the line-out a driving maul was set up and with the backs adding their weight out-half Glenn Baille was credited with the try, which Patterson again converted.
Naas responded just before the break. Clive Ross was deemed to have killed the ball in a ruck, and Peter Osborne slotted the penalty to leave it 19-3 in favour of Ballymena at the interval.
Naas started the second half well and dominated both territory and possession, and they received a reward for their endeavours on 59 minutes. Decent breaks by Peter Osborne and James Cherrington took play into the Ballymena 22 where the latter was high tackled. This led to a yellow card to the offender Stephen Mulholland and a penalty to Naas. The visitors turned down a shot at goal and elected to go for the corner. This time they got their driving maul working perfectly which led to Warren Larkin diving over a try.
Although Peter Osborne missed a difficult conversion there was now a glimmer of hope for the travelling supporters. The lead had been reduced to 11 points and it was noticeable that the large Ballymena pack was tiring rapidly.
However, the home side extinguished any hopes of a dramatic comeback with a try on 72 minutes which also secured them a try bonus point. They won a penalty under the posts but chasing that bonus point they kicked to touch. After that their powerful pack did the business for them and Clive Ross was on hand to gain what could turn out to be a vital fourth try for them. The conversion by Patterson proved to be the last score in a contest that the home side were deserving winners and in which the final scoreline in no way flattered them.
So, it turned out to be a disappointing result for Naas who themselves are not totally clear of the relegation battle. That makes their next fixture away to U.C.C. all the more important. That takes place on Saturday week, March 3rd, with a 3pm kick-off and all support will be greatly appreciated.
Fionn Higgins, Fionn Carr, Johne Murphy, James Cherington, Niall Delahunt, Michael Skelton, Peter Osborne, Stephen Lackey, Graham Reynolds, Conor Doyle, Paul Monahan, David Benn, Cillian Dempsey, Warren Larkin, Paulie Tolofua.
Replacements: Cathal Duff, Mark Ronaldson, Johnny Holmes, Will O'Brien, Max Whittingham.
Rodger McBurney, James Beattie, Callum Patterson, Alan Smyth, Michael Stronge, Glenn Baille, David Shanahan, Ignacio Cladera Crespo, James Taggart, Ross Kane, David Whann, Mark Foster, Clive Ross, Marcus Rea, Azur Allison.
Replacements: Ryan Mattison, Chris Cundell, Connor Smyth, Stephen Mulholland, Steven Shaw.
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