Ballynahinch take title after Malone beaten in decider
Ballynahinch are the new SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership champions after a blistering second half eliminated Malone's hopes of winning the title for the first time since the 1992/93 season.
The Belfast team was ahead for most of the tie and must have been disappointed with only a 13-6 interval lead following such a dominant first period. In perfect conditions they played good rugby and made their opponents defend for long periods but a couple of opportunities were lost.
"On one occasion we had a kickable penalty but elected to take a tap penalty and were turned over and then Rory Campbell tripped when only 10 metres from the home line," commented Malone coach Roy Sherman. "We could have been 10 points further ahead but full credit to Hinch for defending stoutly."
Richard Reaney kicked an easy Hinch penalty before good phase play led to visiting centre Davy McMaster touching down for Campbell to goal. He then kicked two penalties before Reaney replied with a second before half-time.
Hinch made a couple of changes and the inclusion of Aaron Cairns at scrum-half was the catalyst for the fightback.
Bradley Luney broke through the Malone '22' and off loaded to Clayton Milligan who was tackled just short. Following a tap penalty, Keith Dickson, who came on for the late cry-off Conal Boomer, crashed over. Later a visiting penalty was missed before a Ross Adair drop goal made the score 14-13 and Hinch were in front again.
As the game progressed, Malone had a couple of injury problems and Hinch's confidence grew, resulting in the final try. Following constructive forward play and pressure, Adair showed his pace to cut through in the centre and out-half Ryan Wilson finished off for Reaney to convert.
Hinch Director of Rugby Harry McAleese was pleased with the second half effort, saying: "A couple of weeks ago we never thought we would be in this position but the whole squad played well and deserved the success. Now on to the Junior Cup final against Dromore on Wednesday evening."
In the other games Armagh ran in five tries at Queen's to win 3-19 as did Banbridge in a 36-15 win at Ballymena.
Hinch finished on 17 points, Malone 16, Banbridge 15, Queen's 11 and Ballymena and Armagh seven. Armagh have been relegated as, although they finished level with Ballymena, the Eaton Park team won their encounter 24-21. Armagh may feel somewhat aggrieved as the statistics show that the try difference has Armagh minus four and Ballymena minus seven. The points difference is even more startling as the Palace Grounds team finished minus 20 while Ballymena were minus 57.
In Division 2, Rainey were the only team in both competitions to finish undefeated, accumulating 24 points out of a maximum 25. Harlequins had 18 points, Dungannon 13, Omagh 12, City of Derry six and Bangor four.
Results: Dungannon 12 Rainey 20, Belfast Harlequins 31 City of Derry 12, Omagh 49 Bangor 22