Ballynahinch must win to preserve top-flight status
It was set up to be a closing day of mixed emotions and that was pretty much how things turned out in the meaningful games spread across three divisions which involved Ballynahinch, Malone and Instonians.
In Division 1A, Hinch were involved in a thriller at Castle Avenue which saw the Co Down side lose 27-13 to Clontarf – and fail in their bid to escape a play-off – yet allowed the winners to unexpectedly claim the title after bottom side Garryowen turned Old Belvedere over.
For Hinch – whose points came from an Aaron Cairns try and a conversion and two penalties from Ritchie Lobb – the defeat left them in ninth place and now take on Buccaneers in a play-off on May 3 at Ballymacarn Park, needing a win to securing their place in the top flight.
Malone certainly caught the eye with their 52-18 six-try thumping of Corinthians at Gibson Park copper-fastening their status in Division 1B. It meant Malone finished eighth, one place and four points ahead of Blackrock College whose bonus point win over UL Bohemians was not enough to avoid finishing ninth and accompanying Dungannon into Division 2A.
However, early in the second half and with Nathan Brown in the bin, Malone's nerves were rather frayed after Corinthians narrowed the home side's lead to two points and word filtered through of Blackrock's big lead.
Nevertheless, Jacques Benade's men knuckled down – albeit assisted by the opposition losing two men at different points of the second half – and raced away with their first half tries from skipper Michael Barker and Neil Alcorn being impressively added to in the second period by a brace of scores from Peter Henderson, a second from Alcorn and a late touchdown from Richard Millar.
And with 17 points from the boot of sub Josh Pentland to supplement the five kicked by Brown, the Gibson Park faithful were certainly in the mood to celebrate their survival.
It was also a memorable closing afternoon for Belfast Harlequins who saw off Dungannon 47-19 at Deramore in an Ulster derby with nothing at stake for either side other than pride.
Quins scored seven tries and the bonus point saw them sign off in fifth place, while already -relegated Gannon have to do it all again and are due to complete a miserable season at home to Shannon next week in their rearranged game.
The mood was even more downbeat at Shaw's Bridge where Instonians dropped out of senior rugby after losing 24-13 to Munster club Kanturk in their Division 2B play-off.
The young and inexperienced team has struggled all season, managing only two AIL victories, but with home advantage they were expected to have a reasonable chance against the Munster Junior champions.
Unfortunately Inst have played to their potential on only a few occasions this season and Saturday was not one of them.
Kanturk led 10-6 at half time when Mark Healey kicked a penalty and converted a Luke McCabe try. Richard McCarthy had two for the home team but Kanturk made it 17-6 with a converted Dan McCabe try before the expected Inst rally started.
It came with 12 minutes remaining when pressure led to a pushover try by Nico Andress for McCarthy to goal. But, in the last minute, visiting prop Brian O'Neill crashed over for Healey to add the points.
Larne secured the Gordon West Cup with a 29-12 victory over Qualifying Three champions Holywood at Ravenhill.
The Co Antrim side, who had earlier suffered 45-22 and 19-5 League defeats to their rivals, fully warranted their 16-7 interval lead.
James McCluggage has been an inspirational Larne captain throughout the campaign and rallied his team for this sensational victory.
"I would like to thank the hard work from our coach Lawrence Kelly and the support we have received throughout the club." said the skipper.
Ballymena Fifths retained the Forster Cup with a resounding 54-0 win over Instonians III. The Eaton Park team are undefeated after 15 games in Junior 6 and avenged their IV's defeat in the semi-final by Inst which went to a replay.
AIL Div 1A champions: Clontarf. Relegation play-off: Ballynahinch. Relegated: Garryowen
Div 1B champions: Terenure College. Promotion play-off: Buccaneers (v Ballynahinch)
Div 2A promoted: Galwegians and Ballymena. Relegated: Old Crescent and Bruff
Div 2B: promoted: Nenagh Ormond and Skerries Relegated: Suttonians and Instonians
Promoted to Div 2B from junior round-robin: Wanderers and Kanturk