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Ballyclare boys are toast of the town after classy Cup triumph

River Rock Towns' Cup: Ballyclare 27 Portadown 6

Winning feeling: Ballyclare celebrate with the Towns’ Cup at the Kingspan Stadium
Winning feeling: Ballyclare celebrate with the Towns’ Cup at the Kingspan Stadium
Victorious captain Grant Bartley

By Michael Sadlier

As expected, Ballyclare had too much power and precision for Portadown and consequently lifted the River Rock Towns' Cup for the first time as outright winners since 2004.

Ballyclare's victory - they previously shared the Cup with City of Derry after 2013's drawn affair - was forged by their dominant pack which had former Ulster player Ricky Lutton standing out at tight-head prop and No.8 Dave Clarke constantly giving Ballyclare dominance in the collisions with his ball-carrying destructiveness.

Added to that, on a truly miserable day weather-wise at the Kingspan Stadium, was the excellent game management of out-half Robert Smith, who kicked 17 points from five penalties and a conversion.

Coach Mike McKeever's side scored two tries, both in the first half, from strong flanker Paul Robinson and hooker Matthew Coulter, which saw them effectively wrap the game up while leading 21-6 at half-time.

Ballyclare opened the scoring with five minutes on the clock with a well-struck Smith penalty off a scrum, but Mark Adamson levelled things up two minutes later.

Adamson then nudged Portadown into a 6-3 lead after 12 minutes with a successful long-range penalty.

But Ballyclare came again with Smith pulling the strings and Lutton carrying hard.

The resulting breakdown penalty saw Smith tie the scores after 28 minutes.

Then, just after the half-hour, and with Ballyclare on the front foot, Smith's low kick across the park - which may not have been intended - was collected by Stewart Cusick and the Co Antrim side surged into Portadown's '22'.

The net result was Robinson hitting the line at speed and the flanker took several blue defenders with him to smash over near the posts.

Smith added the extras just before Robinson was helped from the field after taking what appeared to be a bang to the head in the act of scoring.

Then, three minutes before the break, Smith's third penalty made it 16-6 to Ballyclare and the half ended with Coulter being driven over in the left corner after a scrum, putting them 21-6 up.

Ballyclare kept the pressure up at the start of the new half and after coming close to scoring another try, Smith bisected the uprights with a 50th-minute penalty.

Smith, prominent yet again, then snapped up a dropped ball from Portadown and his break and kick infield saw Luke Ashton scramble back and kick the ball dead.

From the five-metre scrum, Clarke went blind but the Co Armagh side escaped by being awarded a penalty at the breakdown and cleared their lines.

Ballyclare merely tightened the screw with nearly all the play unfolding in Portadown territory.

Ballyclare's powerful scrum was again to the fore in the 70th minute, winning a penalty after marching Portadown back again, which Smith kicked to stretch the lead to 27-6.

Portadown were then reduced to 14 after Brian Forristal's yellow card for tripping Smith and though Jordan Taylor made an impressive late break, there were no more points for the Co Armagh side and no denying Ballyclare their trophy.

Ballyclare: G Clotworthy, S Cusick, R Reid, J McBride, M Kirk, R Smith, A Eastop,R Henderson, M Coulter, R Lutton, R Boyd, G Bartley, P Robinson, G Weatherup, D Clarke. Replacements: D Jones, R Scott, A Playfair, N Lawther, O Kirk

Portadown: L Ashton, C Megarity, J Matchett, J Holden, C Woods, M Adamson, B Forristal, M Henderson, P Lamb, M Wilson, W Graham, M Muldrew, G Hall, J Taylor, D O'Kane. Replacements: M Davison, L McClure, T Johnston, A Abraham, D Whitten

Referee: J Peak

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