UCC 17 Ballynahinch 21 (First-leg)
IT’S advantage Ballynahinch in the battle to maintaining a presence in energia All-Ireland League Division 1A next season.
They carry a slender four-point lead into the second leg at home up north next week after outmuscling a young UCC side at the Mardyke on Saturday.
And, in truth, Hinch could have won by a far greater margin such was their dominance, built on a formidable set-piece and only denied by some heroic College defence.
UCC might have sensed a different outcome following a dramatic 10 minutes after half-time, when they turned a 15-7 deficit into a two-lead.
Within a minute of the resumption, College received a huge boost with the awarding of a debatable penalty try after wing Matthew Bowen was taken out by opposite number Aaron Cairns as he attempted to chase his own kick.
The Hinch player was duly dispatched to the sin-bin and the Cork students capitalised on their numerical advantage with a Daniel Squires penalty on 50 minutes.
The visitors re-grouped, though, and their stronger scrum helped them gain a foothold in College territory, two penalties from full-back Conor Rankin, after 61 and 70 minutes, edging them in front once more.
And it could have been worse for UCC as Greg Hutley struck a post with a drop-goal and only a magnificent Bowen tackle denied him a certain try in the in-goal area.
The game finished with College in a promising attacking position, Jack Kelleher catching in a line-out only for Hinch to hold the resulting maul.
The game started in a welter of excitement with Rankin kicking Hinch in front with a penalty after three minutes and College responding almost immediately.
A line-out steal put them on the front foot for scrum-half Andrew O’Mahony to time his run perfectly and score between the posts with Squires converting.
The lead only lasted five minutes, however, as a clever kick in behind the home defence led to an attacking scrum.
Hinch opted for the corner from a resulting penalty and their powerful forwards mauled their way through for a try from hooker Josh Hanlon, 8-7.
The Ulster side increased their lead with a second try after 26 minutes, Hinch earning another scrum penalty and profiting with centre George Pringle availing of Conor McAuley’s fine pass.
Tries: A O’Mahony, pen. Con: D Squires Pen: D Squires.
Tries: J Hanlon, G Pringle. Con: C Rankin. Pens: C Rankin (3).
R Hedderman, captain; J O’Leary, D French, D Squires, M Bowen; C Bohane, A O’Mahony; A Heaney, T McCarthy, C Hanlon; R Thompson, M Bissessar; S O’Sullivan, J Kelleher, J O’Sullivan.
B Kingston, A McDonald, R Duggan, A Brien, P Hyland, L Kahn, L Bruce, B Kiernan.
C Rankin; R Patterson, G Pringle, G Hutley, A Cairns; R Williams, C McAuley; J Dickson, J Hanlon, K McCall; T Donnan, J Donnan; C Irvine, B Luney, R Crothers.
B Cullen, P Cooper, K Gill, Z Ward, C Gibson, R Butler, D Cooper, C McLoughlin.
P Reidy (IRFU).