Free-scoring Armagh eye title, but face both key rivals on run in
Soni Ulster Rugby Premiership 1 holders City of Armagh are still undefeated after overcoming City of Derry 82-0 and head the table but still have to face both their main rivals, Banbridge and Malone, for this season's title.
With two fixtures remaining, Armagh are on a maximum of 15 points with Banbridge on 11 points and Malone on 10. Banbridge ended Ballymena's hopes with a 31-12 victory while Malone did likewise to Ballynahinch 15-11.
Armagh ran in 13 tries at the Palace Grounds with John Faloon scoring three and Ryan Purvis, Robbie Faloon and Stuart Hooks two each but the encounter at Gibson Park was much more evenly contested.
Ballymena had much the better of the play early on but failed to convert possession and territory into points. Bann took the lead on their first attack after 20 minutes when Adam Doherty goaled a Jonny Little try. This was cancelled out when Glenn Bailie added the points to a Matthew Norris score but Bann went on to take a 21-7 advantage by the turnaround.
John Porter and Chris Allen had converted tries and, four minutes after the restart, Peter Cromie made it 26-7. With Bann more clinical and having the sharper three-quarters a second Lyttle try followed before Michael Strong touched down for Ballymena.
Two evenly matched teams met at Gibson Park where Malone just about warranted their victory. The score at the interval was 5-3 in the visitor's favour after Hinch's Aaron Ferris showed his pace to run in after 18 minutes.
Right on the blow Mark O'Connor, with the help of a strong wind, kicked a long penalty. Hinch upped their efforts and Malone began to conceded penalties with Richard Reaney kicking two to put them more than a converted try in front.
The home team gradually gained the upper hand for a spell and after 25 minutes O'Connor found a gap on the '22' and cut through to score and convert.
Ten minutes later, after some concerted pressure, out-half Calum Smyth added Malone's second try which was also goaled. For the final five minutes it was all Hinch but they were unable to penetrate the stout home defence.
In Division 2, Queen's brought their losing run to an end with a 36-7 win at Bangor. Belfast Harlequins squeezed through against Rainey 18-17. In the other game, Omagh had a 22-15 home win over Dungannon to record their first success.