In perfect conditions the visitors to the Logan Stadium were Ballyclare who last season put 10 trys past the students. The game started with the home team having the better of the early exchanges, with the lively Jamie Ball at scrum half pulling the strings, however things changed abruptly when the students tried to move a ball wide and a misdirected pass bounced into the Ballyclaire no 12’s hands, he out stripped the home defence to touch down under the posts, the conversion easily made gave the visitors a 7 point lead.
The students then suffered another blow when shortly after the restart a good cutting break saw rugby league convert, centre Andrew Winder carry the ball into contact were he fell awkwardly and damaged his ankle in the process, to his credit he choose to stay on the field, moving to the wing were he played basically on one leg for the remaining 70minutes and crucially, his presence would make a telling contribution to the game.
The students reorganised and went about trying to get a hold on the talented Ballyclaire team, a great step in the middle of the field from hooker Ryan Eecock who has made the number 2 shirt his own this season, supported by O’Neill and Wilkinson created quick possession, this was moved once more through the forwards hands with the back row ground hog John Dillon making the ball available, quick handling and direct running by the back line saw full back Lee Murphy give Winger Sam Hall a great pass and the big lad coming onto the pass flat out stripped the away defence to score in the corner. Out half Whitcroft slotted the difficult conversion to level affairs, it was game on.
A period followed were both teams struggled to retain primary possession, with in turn each team winning line outs and scrums against the head, but good defensive work lead to turnover of the ball and it was a moment of inspiration from skipper Dunlevey to make the ball available giving the Uni no 10, who always looks to keep the score board moving, tried a long range attempt at a drop goal, on target but just dropping under the crossbar. However the fullback managed to fumble the ball and gave a knock on, this gave the students prime field position. To their credit Ballyclaire survived the onslaught on their try line however eventually an offside infringement was conceded and Out half Whitcroft made no mistake with the penalty kick to give the home side the half time lead.
The restart saw Ballyclaire start the better and the student defence was well tested surprisingly and uncharacteristically indiscipline home defence gave several penalties away, but thankfully the visitors kicking boots were still in Ballyclaire and the scoreboard was not threatened. The students then played some good rugby with Millar, Dunlevey, McCullough and Henley dominating the line out and great defence from Rowden and Hill and Murphy who is securer than any European bank at fullback, saw the students get into penalty range and when the error came Whitcroft converted from 30m out to give the students a 13 – 7 lead.
One of the trade marks of the home team this season has been having the capacity to score at key times in games and in probably the key moment of this entertaining fixture, the students were given the put in to a scrum that the visitors may have felt should have been there’s, 10 yards out, surprising the Claire defence no8 went blind and fed scrumhalf Jamie Ball who gave the pass to Winder who considering his damaged leg stepped round the visitors winger and fullback to score a try. Whitcroft converted the conversion from the touch line, his 12th consecutive kick at goal, to open up a 20 – 7 lead.
Ballyclaire to there credit came back at the students and forced a try with a juggling act by the fullback after a good build up saw him have loose then have again control of the ball as he crossed the try line, to bring the visitors back within 6 points .However the students had the best of the final exchanges and almost crowned a dogged performance by scoring what would have been an outstanding try with every forward touching the ball inter passing through the Ballyclaire defence with unfortunately the final pass going to ground with the try line at their mercy. Final score UUC 20 – Ballyclaire 14