Patterson boots Ballymena to Schools' Cup victory
Ballymena Academy 10 BRA 7
Ballymena Academy are the 2010 Northern Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup winners.
In a hard-fought Ravenhill final a second-half drop goal proved to be the difference between them and Belfast Royal Academy.
As a match it ebbed and flowed, with the pace never less than frantic, the commitment never short of total, the enthusiasm boundless and the examples of skill and raw courage plentiful.
The opening exchanges confirmed the nerves in both camps with BRA pinching the first line-out on Ballymena’s throw and the country lads promptly matching that by taking a heel against the head in the opening scrum of what was to be an intriguing scrap for forward supremacy in the setpiece and loose.
Ballymena full-back Charlie Simpson (pictured) put down a couple of markers as to his ability, fielding two high balls perfectly and clearing both delightfully.
Back three colleague, left wing Caleb Morrison, was another who settled into his stride and, having done so, never deviated from it.
Both of those Ballymena boys were outstanding throughout, but they weren’t alone.
The Royal Academy’s captain, scrum-half Conor Spence, was everywhere in the early exchanges, attacking and defending as required.
But while it was BRA who looked the more menacing side initially, Ballymena’s ability to counter — and the speed and creativity with which they did so — began to suggest that they were a very dangerous side, too.
The point was underlined when, from another full-throttle raid, the impressive David Cartmill only just failed to find Morrison on the 22.
And when all else failed, Ballymena had the boot of stand-off Callum Patterson to call upon.
With the sides taking turns to attack it was a pulsating spectacle.
Iain Henderson, the BRA No 8, began to feature more and more as did stand-off Stuart Olding whose breaks with ball in hand had the alarm bells clanging in the Ballymena defence more than once.
One such scorching, swerving run saw him eat up 50 yards of Ravenhill space, evading three would-be tacklers before off-loading to winger Eoin Devlin.
That got the Belfast half of the crowd roaring.
To their great credit, however, they were impeccably quiet when, on 15 minutes, Ballymena’s Patterson had the afternoon’s first pot at the posts.
From wide right, just inside the 10 metre line, he struck a penalty at which the touchjudges looked long and hard before finally agreeing that he had just failed. It could not have been closer.
But Ballymena’s admirably adventurous attitude cost them dearly when they sacrificed possession after a turn over having tried to attack from deep inside their own 22.
BRA pounced and it was full-back Jordan Buchanan who made the most of a kindly bounce to apply the punishment in the form of a touchdown converted by David Cartmill in the 21st minute — 7-0.
Leading by example, Ballymena captain George Dennison sought to rally his rattled troops. As the already-fast pace intensified further, he was always in the thick of the action.
His side responded, upped the pressure and began to look stronger.
Points, one sensed, were coming and they duly arrived after a period of steadily mounting pressure in both set-pieces.
The excellent Simpson initiated it and Patterson almost casually carried the ball in one hand before freeing left wing Morrison to score. Patterson converted — 7-7 at the break.
The second half was no less hard-fought, but the scoring was confined to a 41st minute drop goal by Patterson and ultimately that proved decisive.
In the 58th minute the same kicker rattled at Aquinas End post with a 35-metre penalty, but that was to be as close as either side got to troubling the scoreboard operator further.
Realising that it was do or die, BRA produced a fighting finale but Ballymena were not to be denied.