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Northern Bank Schools Cup: Ballymena 11 Friends 11

Friends School Lisburn served up another exciting game in this Northern Bank Schools Cup quarter-final against Ballymena Academy on Tuesday afternoon at Ballymena Rugby Club.

Leading 11 – 3 going into the last quarter Friends looked the likely winners but a controversial yellow carding of Friends talismanic No. 8 David McGuigan allowed Ballymena to snatch a late draw.

The first half was a tense affair with first Ballymena and then Friends applying pressure. Somewhat against the run of play it was Friends that got on the score sheet first, on twenty minutes, with a well struck penalty from full back Lewsley after a fine break. Academy hit back almost immediately with a penalty from No. 10 Calum Patterson but as the half went on it was Friends who were in the ascendancy.

The second half started at a frenetic pace with both teams no doubt told to go out and play but after a series of fumbles from the Academy backs Friends gained excellent position yards from the Ballymena line. After a couple of drives from close in scrum half Ben Semple dummied and dived over for an excellent score, crucially Lewsley missed the conversion giving the Lisburn side an 8 – 3 lead.

Ballymena attempted to hit back but with their backs running laterally and taking too much out of the ball Friends were able to cope with all their attacks with their excellent drift defence.

In fact it was Friends defence which won their next score with Lewsley slotting over another penalty to take the lead to 3 – 11.

Ballymena came back with another Patterson penalty, but Friends still looked comfortable in defence and it was somewhat surprising that, with just over 10 minutes remaining, the Lisburn team’s star player McGuigan found himself taking a ten minute break for an infringement at the ruck.

Ballymena sensed that this was their chance and after some straight and powerful runs they worked their way into the Friends 22. From the resulting lineout and well controlled drive Ballymena’s No. 6 was worked over the line for the equalising score. Academy came within inches of securing a dramatic win but unfortunately for the home side Patterson’s attempted conversion bounced off the underside of the crossbar.

McGuigan came back on with minutes remaining to shore up his teams defence and despite the best efforts of both sides the game finished in a draw.

Centres Vance and Cochrane were particularly impressive as was scrum half Semple who controlled most aspects of the game well.

Friends’ coach Stephen Robinson is justifiably confident about Saturday’s replay, saying:

“Our boys played exceptionally well. We maintained a lot of pressure which helped us gain a formidable lead. Unfortunately we suffered from the yellow card and but for that we would probably have won. We have no injury problems so things look good for the replay.”

Ballymena Academy: C Simpson, M McBride, C Delpy, P Storey, C Morrison, C Patterson, P Banda, S McNabney, K Galloway, G Hargy, M Rea, D Whann. T Patton, J Andrew, P Wallace, J McClelland, J Fleming, M Galbraith, J Foster, M McMurray, P McKerr, M Dick, G Dennison.

Friends’ School: K McCorkell, A Trimble, C Ross, J Robinson, R McCaughey, P Ferguson, J Vance, D McGuigan, B Semple, R McIvor, D Eastwood, A Vance, M Cochrane, P Pringle, C Lewsley, S Seeds, S Harris, J Murphy, J Thompson, B McMullan, P Anderson, J Dennison.

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