Clinical CI boost top four hopes
CIYMS 28 - BALLYMONEY 10
CIYMS produced some sparkling rugby to secure a bonus point win over Ballymoney at Belmont on Saturday, ending their opponents' hopes of securing a place in next season's All-Ireland Junior Cup in the process.
Ballymoney entered the game in fourth place – the final qualifying slot for the competition – but their defeat, coupled with Dromore's victory over struggling Coleraine, means that the best they can finish this season is fifth.
CI, meanwhile, must earn at least nine points from their final two fixtures and hope that Dromore take nothing from their remaining game with Bangor if they are to finish in the top four for the second season in succession.
Two tries from the returning Michael Wilson, sandwiched by scores from Neil Wallace and Gavin Woods, secured the five points and captain Stuart Fergusson – himself returning from a spell on the sidelines – was justifiably thrilled with his team's showing.
After the game, he commented: "We've been really struggling the last few weeks but that just shows you the difference a few key players make.
"Morale has been a bit low but getting a win like that certainly puts us on the right track with some big games and a McCrea Cup semi-final coming up.
"Ballymoney are an outstanding side, especially with their big pack and we struggled a bit with our scrums in the first half but once we fixed that, we were able to dominate."
Without their usual goal-kicker, CI often eschewed shots at goal for kicks to the corner but, with 16 minutes gone, good work from Jason Gilliland earned a penalty and Phil McVitty kicked them ahead.
In a tight first half, that advantage remained intact until 10 minutes before the break, when Ballymoney's superiority in the scrum finally yielded points after number 8 Neil Mulholland broke off the base and rumbled over.
CI adjusted quickly, springing Matt Brown from the bench to solidify the set-piece, and the change paid dividends when a scrum penalty gave Wilson the opportunity to kick his side into a 6-5 lead.
That one-point advantage would become eight moments later when good work from Andy Hodgen off the restart saw the ball worked from left to right, and allowed Neil Wallace to run the ball home.
McVitty knocked over the conversion and the home side led 13-5 at the break.
Much like the first-half, the opening period of the second was a close affair and once again Ballymoney scored the first try.
This time from a line-out rather than a scrum, several of the Ballymoney pack were repelled close to the line before lock Ryan Clyde showed good strength to force his way over.
However, with just under half an hour remaining, that score would represent the County Antrim side's last points of the day and C.I took control of the game.
Their second try was a brilliantly executed move that saw Hodgen make another notable run and a sharp exchange of passes between Gilliland and Wallace launched Wilson clear to dart over the whitewash.
The scrum-half missed the majority of last month with a leg injury and marked his return to action with another try in the 79th minute.
Mark Scott advanced the ball into Ballymoney territory and, with Wallace again involved, Phil McVitty's quick hands sent Wilson through for the second time.
After the game, Stuart Fergusson – whose MCL injury had appeared to end his season just six weeks ago – said he "felt like Stephen Ferris" running back out on the pitch and, just like the Ulster star on Friday night, he saw his team collect a last-gasp bonus point via thanks to a loosehead prop.
And while Tom Court's score at Ravenhill against the Scarlets had came from the kind of work expected of a man in his position, Gavin Woods' final-play try was more reminiscent of a centre.
His sidestep in the left corner left Ballymoney tacklers grasping at air and he displayed enough strength to finish off the move himself by barging over the line.
The five-point haul kept the east Belfast side's league season alive and with the likes of Fergusson, Wilson and Hodgen back in the side – and important lock Steven McReynolds also nearing fitness – they will surely now feel that they can have a successful ending to their campaign.