For the second year running Ballymena RFC I XV won the Ulster Rugby provincial cup with a 25-6 score line against derby rivals Rainey Old Boys RFC I XV.
Ravenhill was the location in Ulster and the scene was one of near perfect rugby conditions. An icy evening with a little rain made for a great playing surface and both teams responded to the occasion with superb rugby.
Ballymena dominated the set pieces yielding territory and possession throughout the game although Rainey in their first ever cup final appearance after a superb undefeated run against formidable sides felt that they had not played to their true potential.
Ballymena (the Braidmen) with their talisman Syd Millar as always watching felt that they were using this final as a springboard to establish themselves after 6 months of restructuring in the all island competitions.
Dedication to perfecting their individual and team working skills is what won the day for both sides, both setting a very clear marker to their rivals in their respective competitions that they are capable of producing upsets and sustaining winning momentum.
The first half was a closely fought affair with Rainey registering the first points through the boot of Mark O'Connor, but Ballymena responded straight away with a try worked from forward play which then switched to a backs move and clinically finished by Peter Budina. Then in the final play of the first half the Braidmen struck gold when after sustained team pressure Ulster Development Hooker John Burns crashed through a gap for a 14-3 lead at the interval.
Rainey however had been behind in their previous two games in the competition by two tries and the crowd waited for the come back. While Rainey did apply extreme pressure on the Braidmen a fitting credit to their position as top of the AIL 2b league, Ballymena were able to absorb this and in the process scored 2 penalties and a further try to one 1 penalty for Rainey leaving the final scoreline 25-6.
Rainey have made history this season by reaching the final and having now experienced the big occasion of a Ravenhill final will undoubtedly look to progress further in all their objectives.
Ballymena who are after all 2 leagues above Rainey in the all island leagues saw the game as the final proof that their enormous commitment and hard work after losing between 8-12 players last season is paying off. Their new recruit's are now putting together very useful rugby and after the recent victory over Blackrock will be delighted to take on their new year games.
The excitement level reached fever pitch as Ballymena lifted the cup and all eyes now look firmly towards the Junior Cup on the 28th of December & then in the new year the final 5 months of all domestic and all island competitons with schools' rugby very much to the fore from February and all of this happening alongside the progression of the professional game competitions in which Ulster Rugby are involved!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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