AIL Division 1A
James Kirk reporting from Ballymacarn
Ballynahinch 43 Lansdowne 5.
In apocalyptic conditions at Ballymacarn Park, Ballynahinch proved they belong in Division 1A with a stunning victory over three time champions Lansdowne.
The relentless rain made no impact on the Hinch men as they played superbly accurate error-free rugby to lay down a marker for the rest of the season. The poor performance of the previous week at Garryowen was put behind them and there was a return of the old Hinch bite in defence.
Brian McLaughlin was forced to make a late change at hooker when Zac McCall failed to recover from a calf injury. Tom Stewart stepped up and the back row was reshuffled due to Conall Boomer’s knee injury. Marcus Rea moved to number 8 with Clive Ross at blindside and Olly Loughead returning to openside. In the backs Ross Adair moved into midfield with Paddy Wright starting at full back.
From the opening minute Ballynahinch were on their game and an early break from Aaron Cairns set the tone as he was put away by Adair with Ryan Wilson eventually being stopped just short of the line.
Ballynahinch scored from their next attack, showing superb accuracy to go through multiple phases before Rea was driven over. Sean O’Hagan made the conversion and nailed another one from an almost identical place when Lansdowne failed to deal with his perfectly weighted grubber kick to allow Hinch to retrieve possession and put Cairns in for the try.
The lead was 14-0 after 20 minutes and stretched to 19-0 when Jack Regan was driven over following more superb work from the forwards.
Lansdowne managed to rouse themselves and used their scrum advantage to earn a kick to the corner. Excellent defence kept them out but another penalty invited pressure and this time Lansdowne took their chance with skipper Jack Dwan going over on the short side from a lineout.
Ballynahinch immediately showed they were not going to sit on their lead when a training ground move from a lineout was beautifully executed to put Tom Stewart in open country up the touchline.
After an exchange of passes he went over in the corner but referee Peter Martin spotted a forward pass and disallowed it. Jonny Blair then demonstrated that the home side would not be bullied during a scuffle with his opposite number and both players received a yellow.
The visitors were in possession of the ball as the game reached half-time but were kept at arm’s length by quality Hinch defence and never really threatened the line to leave the Hinch men two scores clear at the half.
The first score in the second half looked like it would be crucial and Ballynahinch immediately began to turn the screw. Ross Adair’s excellent line took him clean through and when desperate Lansdowne defence lead to another yellow card and a penalty close to the line, the hardy folk braving the elements assumed a kick to the corner or a scrum would be the result.
Tap and go king Rhys O’Donnell had other ideas and following a stunning pick-up and transfer from Stewart, Cairns scored his second and secured the bonus point. Another excellent goal line stand from the home side in which they drove their opponents further and further away from the line visibly broke what resistance the Dubliners had left and when Wright, outstanding all afternoon, broke from long range on the hour mark Cairns was on hand to complete his hat trick and put the result beyond doubt.
The Hinch bench rolled on and enjoyed themselves in the final quarter with Aaron Hall smashing into tackles and carrying with intent but it was O’Hagan who stole the show with a brace to turn the scoreline into a rout. Firstly he went over in the corner after another slashing break from Cairns and then barrelled past the away defenders to touch down a Rhys O’Donnell grubber under the posts.
This was a superb all-round performance from the locals, especially the quality and ambition of their play in atrocious conditions. The forwards were outstanding to a man with Stewart and Rea superb while Cairns was virtually unplayable. Skipper John Donnan led from the front and the Ballymacrn men have made a statement to the rest of the league. The challenge will be to maintain those standards for the rest of the season.
Ballynahinch 1sts 20. Ben Cullen, Tom Stewart, Jonny Blair, Jack Regan, John Donnan (c), Clive Ross, Olly Loughead, Marcus Rea, Rhys O’Donnell, Sean O’Hagan, Aaron Cairns, Ryan Wilson, Ross Adair, George Pringle, Paddy Wright. Connor Piper, Harry McCormick, Aaron Hall, Greg Hutley, Connor Rankin.