Ballymoney Ladies Rugby Team took to the road on Sunday, as they travelled to City of Armagh Rugby Club to take part in the 2013 Ulster Women’s Qualifying Cup Final. This was going to be a journey of unknowns for the girls in blue, as their opponents, Sligo, were somewhat of a mystery team to them in terms of playing style, player make-up and experience.

As it turned out, it was a tale of backs versus forwards and taking chances, and with both teams locked at 24 points each going into the final 15 minutes, it was two quick back row tries and a conversion that changed the balance, and saw the Sligo Ladies clinch the trophy with a 36 – 24 win.

At a Sunny, if somewhat chilly Armagh, it was the Sligo team that got things underway in what could be described as nearly ideal rugby playing conditions. From the gather in, it was the women in blue that showed some early ambition by driving forward in the close quarters, and then out to the flanker, Jennifer Lappin, for a sniping run through the mid-field. A thumping tackle, by Sligo’s number 12, saw this early initiative lost, however, advantage was soon regained due to sealing off in the resulting ruck by the tackler.

With a clear advantage of gaining extra ground into their opponent’s 22, Ballymoney’s Julie Newton kicked for touch, but the ball found its way into the hands of Sligo’s winger. With speed and support from her full back and centres, the Sligo quartet were able to stretch the Ballymoney drift defence, and with two missed tackles, the Sligo number 13 was able to dot down for their 1st try of the match.

However, there was an immediate response from the TOON women. Sligo took the restart ball but conceded a scrum by knocking on. From the base of the resulting scrum, Ballymoney’s Julie Newton picked up the ball and thundered toward the try line. With support from her forwards, a maul was formed and drilled over into the opposition’s in-goal area to be grounded by Julie. With a successful conversion by Samantha Hickinson, the 10th minute saw the score at 5 – 7 to the Ballymoney girls.

Ill discipline now started to hurt Sligo. With runners in front of the kicker from the restart and some backchat to the referee, Ballymoney found themselves within Sligo’s 10-meter line with a gifted penalty. It was a tap and go by Julie Newton, and with support from Julie Greene and Jen Murphy, the Sligo defence were caught napping. With such momentum from the forwards, the Sligo defence did well to hold up the trio in their in-goal area. However, the respite was short lived as a 5-meter scrum loomed.

Feed in by Ballymoney’s scrum half and captain, Gill Powell, the ball quickly made its way to the back of the scrum. Julie Newton lifted it from the base, but was tackled by Sligo’s quick reacting flanker. However, the ball was quickly recycled from the ruck and given to Jennifer Lappin, who handed off Sligo’s full back to scramble over the white wash for Ballymoney’s 2nd try and a 5 – 12 lead.

Things were looking good for the TOON team now, as they appeared to form a strategy that they could use to beat the Sligo pack – keep it tight, hold onto possession and power the ball over the try line. However, the Sligo girls were not going to take this strategy lying down.

A helter skelter passage of play began after the restart as the Ballymoney girls combined well down the left before a knock on ended the threat, while Sligo looked keen to move the ball wide whenever possible.

This wide play and passing of the ball quickly lead to a stretched Ballymoney defence. With nobody at home to offer any resistance, except for the TOON’s full back, Christine Kirkpatrick, Sligo made great use of their speed in this passage of play by running in for their 2nd try. With a successful conversion, the match was tied at 12 all.
Moreover, it was not long before tries 3 and 4 followed in a similar fashion.

One more successful conversion for the Sligo team brought to a close an entertaining half of rugby, with Sligo being in the ascendancy.
Both teams were looking to play a good brand of rugby, using there own style and Ballymoney had enjoyed the better of the territorial and forward game.

However, they had not made as much of their chances as Sligo had. Sligo had only entered the Ballymoney 22 sporadically, but had come away with points on most occasions.

Being more clinical in the second half would be key for the girls in blue, as well as cutting down on missed tackles, turnover ball and keeping the quick Sligo back row at bay, all of which were giving Sligo easy possession and territory gains.

At the start of the second half, it was all pressure from the Ballymoney team and the Sligo ladies did well to defend against wave after wave of forward attack from the girls in blue. Indeed, they managed to do this for the first 10 minutes; however, the pressure was beginning to show.

With having already held up two tries and thwarted numerous forward drives, the Sligo ladies defence finally gave when their number 6 failed to roll away from a tackle, thus affording Ballymoney a penalty. The Ballymoney girls wasted no time in deciding on a quick tap and go, which had worked so effectively in the first half, and indeed, again, on this occasion, the forward drive saw Julie Newton claim her 2nd try of the match. With a successful conversion from Vicky Wade, the score was now 24 – 19 to the Sligo team.

This seemed to give the Ballymoney girls some impetus, as it was they who were now controlling and dominating the game. As was in the first half, keeping the ball tight and allowing Sligo little possession was starting to reap rewards. This was shown again, when in the 28th minute of the second half, Julie Newton once again, assisted by Jennifer Lappin, drove the ball over the Sligo try line for Julie’s 3rd try. With the score now at 24 each and 10 minutes left on the clock, it was all to play for by both teams.

Sligo were not going to lie down and give up. As was shown near the end of the first half, they were capable of scoring quick tries. Indeed, to the detriment of the TOON girls, this is exactly what happened. With two quick tries in succession and a conversion, the Sligo girls were able to take a 36 – 24 victory to lift this year’s Ulster Qualifying Cup.

Understandably there was an element of frustration and sadness for coach John Hunter and his team, but they will be able to take so much from this experience as they prepare for their next battle, which will decide who will play in this year’s league cup final.

After the match, Gill Powell, captain for the Ballymoney Ladies, said:
“Firstly, Ballymoney Ladies Rugby would like to congratulate the Sligo Ladies for taking it to the TOON team today, and earning a 36 – 24 victory to secure this year’s Ulster Qualifying Cup.

“It was a hard fought battle between our two teams, and was finely poised at 24 all until the final 15 minutes. During this period, Sligo scored twice and converted once to secure their win.

“The Ballymoney Ladies fought hard, but on the day, were outpaced by a Sligo back row that were hungry for the victory.

“The Ballymoney Ladies did not play bad, in fact, I would say on the contrary, and it was perhaps one of the most dogged and determined TOON sides that we have fielded this year.

“Each and every one of the ladies should be congratulated, and although not the result we wanted, should hold their heads up high for the performance and effort that they put in.”

Ballymoney Team: Emma McCauley, Andrea Barkley, Jenni Lindsay, Jen Murphy, Julie Greene, Jennifer Lappin, Vicky Wade, Julie Newton, Gill Powell(c), Samantha Hickinson, Samara McAlister, Laura Dooey, Emma Elliott, Helen Murphy, Christine Kirkpatrick, Maggie McCaughan(sub).


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