Ulster Premiership Division 1 Group B 9th September 2023

Scorers: Hall(1*Try), M.McCusker(1*Try), McLean(1*Pen, 4*Pen, 2*Conv)


Rainey recorded their first win of the season in front of a jubilant crowd at Hatrick Park last Saturday, defeating local rivals Ballymena 31 – 7. The win brought the club the runners-up spot in Group B of the Ulster Premiership Division 1 and secured their place in the quarter finals of the Ulster Senior Cup. Ballymena – 14 times Senior Cup winners – are at risk of dropping out of this season’s competition after this result left them languishing at the bottom of Group B.

The visitors were first on the attack as the game kicked-off in stultifying heat, winning a turnover and testing the Rainey defence, but it was the home side who scored first, out-half McLean slotting over a long-range penalty following good work by centre Brown.

Building momentum against their AIL Div 2A opponents, they added a converted try shortly after. A great scrum by the forwards just outside Rainey’s 22’ gave McLean the opportunity to chip over the advancing Ballymena defence. Centre J.Hastings was up quickly to reclaim the ball and beat two defenders before feeding open-side flanker Hall. A clever pass to AJ Browne sent him hurtling for the corner, but he was hauled down just 5m short. A quick pop-pass back to Hall kept the move alive and he dived over for the game’s opener, much to the delight of the crowd.

With the Rainey backs testing Ballymena at every opportunity, they won a penalty on the visitors’ 22’ and McLean kicked for the corner. A textbook catch and drive set the platform, and it was no surprise when flanker M.McCusker peeled off and dived over for Rainey’s second. McLean was on-target for the third time, and with Rainey tails up, he soon added another penalty to take Rainey’s lead to 20 points.

A clearly shell-shocked Ballymena finally got their act together, and they drove upfield, stretching the home defence to breaking point before sending their fullback over for a try between the posts. The conversion was a formality.

As the half drew to a close, Rainey pressed forward again, drawing a series of penalties in the red zone until a defensive high-tackle saw Ballymena reduced to 14 men. A third try seemed to be on the cards, but the chance went begging.

Accepting the restart, Ballymena once again tried to get their game going, but the inaccuracies which had plagued them all day continued, and a lovely passage of play took Rainey deep into Ballymena territory. Try as they might, Ballymena couldn’t shake free of the home side, and a scrum penalty gave McLean another 3-pointer.

Rainey were then reduced to 14 when hooker O’Neill was pinged for a ruck infringement, but Ballymena were unable to take advantage, despite spending an age in the Rainey 22’. When parity was resumed and the skys opened, Rainey reasserted their superiority. Lock J.McCusker set the tone by simply catching a Ballymena attacker and holding him off the ground until the resulting maul was awarded to Rainey. A superb driving scrum then gave them a penalty and McLean added 3 more to his tally.

Yet another misfire at the tail of the Ballymena lineout allowed scrum-half Quinn to steal possession for the umpteeth time. Lock M.McCusker carried strongly up the middle and a sly offload to McLean on the 10m line sent him on a scything run through the Ballymena defence to cross the whitewash in the corner to finish the game.

This was the great all-round performance Rainey have been threatening since the season started. The forwards were collectively superb, out-muscling their opposite numbers throughout the game. The defence was well marshalled and effective, and Quinn at scrum-half provided energy and impetus to keep things moving.

TEAM: T.O’Hagan, D.O’Neill(c), A.McSwiggan, T.Hutchinson, R.McCusker, M.McCusker, S.Hastings, B.Hall, A.Montgomery, L.Quinn, S.McLean, AJ Browne, A.Brown, J.Hastings, M.Mulholland, L.Regan
SUBS: K.Donaghy, J.McCusker, A.Donaghy, L.Montgomery, M.Nevin