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Ward at the double as Hinch stay in the driving seat

 

By Michael Sadlier

It's getting tense now at the top of the table.

Two games to go and leaders Ballynahinch still hold the slenderest of leads over Banbridge with the prize of winning the league and journeying upwards to 1A still very much up for grabs.

But this is not merely a two-horse race between the Ulster rivals. Shannon are just six behind Hinch but with an extra game to play - three as opposed to the two awaiting Hinch and Bann - and are very much in the hunt to claim the 1B title. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Ballymena are engaged in their own battle to shake off the unpalatable prospect of entering the play-offs to stave off relegation, and they moved in the right direction by beating UL Bohemians at home.

In doing so, the Braidmen traded places with Bohs to take them up a place to the safety of eighth, though only two points now separate the sides with both having the same number of games left.

At Ballymacarn Park, Hinch found themselves 10-0 down to relegation-battling Dolphin after the opening 40 minutes and facing the prospect of losing their place at the table's summit.So, Brian McLaughlin's side responded by scoring 26 points to collect their seventh try bonus of the season and keep themselves ahead, but only just, of the field.

Zac Ward ended up being top scorer with two tries though he was closely followed by Richard Reaney who kicked three conversions with Hinch claiming maximum points as James Simpson and Conor Kelly also touched down in the 26-15 victory.

There was drama aplenty to be had at Naas as well as Bann had to fight hard before eventually running out 40-31 winners.

Adam Doherty led the way for Bann with an impressive 20 points via a try, three conversions and the same number of penalties.

Bann's ended up scoring five tries for a very useful five-point haul with Andrew Morrison getting over twice and Michael Cromie and John Porter completing the total to keep Dan Soper's squad tucked just one point adrift of Hinch.

Ballymena ran out fairly comfortable victors by 31-17 over Bohs at Eaton Park but, perhaps crucially, failed to claim a try bonus.

Ulster squad member Brett Heron kicked two conversions, two penalties and two drop goals while James Beattie got a brace of tries and Mark Foster managed one as the Braidmen had to content themselves with a nevertheless valuable four points.

1B: Ballymena 31 UL Bohs 17, Hinch 26 Dolphin 15, Naas 31 Bann 40, Old Belvo 22 UCC 26, Shannon 24 Old Wesley 21

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