Bann Thirds eased their way into the quarter-final of the Crawford Cup with what skipper Ross Semple described as “a good all-round performance”.
Ballyclare recovered from the loss of a prop in the second minute to take the lead seven minutes into the game, with their scrum half adding the conversion points to his own try scored off the back of a five metre scrum.
Bann hit back immediately and got their reward in the form of a simple penalty converted by Jeff Dodds. On 17 minutes a Ballyclare knock-on just inside their own “22” gave the Bann pack the chance to underline their scrummaging prowess.
The visitors’ forwards were shunted back close to their own line and after No 8 Andrew Davidson’s feed had taken Dodds close to the line, the re-cycled ball came to Richard McElroy and the burly prop barged his way over for the try, with Dodds adding the challenging conversion.
Ballyclare looked likely to re-gain the lead six minutes later but Stuart Wilson’s intervention knocked the ball-carrier off his feet and the attempted off-load was knocked on just short of the line.
The lineout combo of hooker Gareth Briggs and flanker Alexander Megaw was proving a fruitful source of supply for the home side and after a set piece on the ‘Clare “22” had been driven close to the try line McElroy forced his way over only to be held up.
With the resultant scrum being driven remorselessly forward the defence infringed and the referee awarded Bann a penalty try, with Dodds converting for a 17-7 lead.
The home side were on the back foot from the re-start and, after twice opting for the five metre lineout without reward, ‘Clare kicked the third of three penalties awarded in quick succession to leave themselves a converted try shy at the break.
The loss to the visitors of a second front row forward just before the interval reduced their number to 14 but more significantly deprived Bann of what had been a powerful weapon in their armoury as the scrums went ‘uncontested’.
Indeed ‘Clare enjoyed much the better of the exchanges in the third quarter, twice being denied three points when their penalty attempts struck an upright.
The Bann defensive line held firm however and they finished strongly with McElroy again carrying well to threaten to double his try tally.
“Our scrum really dominated the first half,” said Semple, “so it was a blow when it went uncontested, especially as it meant our pack had to do more running.
“But I thought our defence was unbelievable in the second half. Geoff Thompson had the threequarters really well organised and all the backs, including replacement centre William Baird, really played their part.
“Richard McElroy thought he was coming to sit on the bench but a late cry-off meant that he had to start and he had a storming game.
“This cup run is great for team morale and we look forward to see who we take on in the quarter-final, with everyone ready to step up the training.”