Played before a huge crowd at The Cloughan, Ballyclare scored a deserving victory over league leaders Instonians to bring themselves to within three points of their South Belfast rivals. Michael Kirk’s try in the third quarter was the difference between the top two in a very tense encounter.

Ballyclare kicked off in near perfect conditions knowing only a win would do and immediately took the game to the Inst Old Boys. However, for all their early possession they only had a penalty from Robert Smith to show for their efforts. James Campbell quickly equalised for Inst, but it was Ballyclare who continued to dominate. A teak tough visiting defence continued to frustrate the home side but another Robert Smith penalty on 26 minutes saw them edge back in front at 6-3.

After soaking up more pressure Inst paid a rare visit to the Ballyclare ‘22’ and again came away with points as James Campbell kicked a penalty following a Ballyclare infringement at a scrum. At 6-6 at the break, Instonians would’ve been more than the happier of the two sides.

Instonians made a bright start to the second half and another James Campbell penalty saw the lead for the first time in the game at 6-9. The lead didn’t last long as on 50 mins constant pressure from the Ballyclare pack saw them create an overlap and quick passing from Robert Smith and Joel McBride put winger Michael Kirk in for an easy finish in the corner.

Ballyclare extended their lead to five points on the hour when Robert Smith landed his third penalty and they continued to dominate proceedings but were unable to kill the game off as Inst continued to fight and stay in losing bonus point territory. Eventually they found a gap in the Ballyclare defence through scrum-half Matthew Keane as the clock turned red, but the home defence regrouped, and Aaron Playfair forced Michael Melville into a knock on following a big hit on the left wing. Seconds later they were celebrating a win that kept their season alive and a win that will see the Championship 1 title go down to the wire.

Ballyclare: Rory Henderson, Matthew Coulter, Ricky Lutton, Robert Boyd, Grant Bartley (Capt), Paul Robinson, Gary Weatherup, Dave Clarke, Andy Eastup, Robert Smith, Michael Kirk, Joel McBride, Gary Clotworthy, Stewart Cusick, Robbie Reid. Replacements: Dean Jones, Aaron Playfair.

Instonians: John Andress, Conor Gallagher, Alan Whitten, Sean Shuttleworth, Rory McCurry, Aaron Davis, Joshua Atkinson, Roger Wilson, Matthew Keane, James Campbell, David Scott, Ben Scott, Michael Melville, Gareth Burns-Delaney. Replacements: Neil Saulters, Ben Alexander.

Report credit – Paul McIntyre: Back of the Stand 

Photo credit – John McMurtry: The Front Row Union