Lansdowne proved too strong for a game Ballynahinch outfit in bitterly cold conditions on the Headquarters back pitch on Saturday.
A bitter, biting wind from the north east gusted down the pitch towards the pavilion end, creating difficult handling conditions for both sides. To their credit, both Lansdowne and Ballynahinch served up some enterprising fare in an exciting, eight-try encounter.
Earlier, at a lunch attended by 180 members and guests, Club President Frank Kenny had made a presentation to the Chief Executive of Zurich Europe and the Far East, Patrick Manley and Irish CEO Conor Brennan, to mark the insurance giant’s 25 years as main sponsor of the Lansdowne Club – a remarkable record, and without parallel in senior sport in this country.
Lansdowne also welcomed back the visitors’ no. 8, Charlie Butterworth, who had been a member of the Headquarters side for 5 years before gaining an Ulster contract this season. Ballynahinch’s other Lansdowne import, Ruadhrai Murphy, was an absentee through injury.
Facing into the formidable breeze, Lansdowne had the perfect start against the elements with a well-worked try following a telling thrust by inside centre Tom Daly which was carried on by Scott Deasy. The move was rounded off by speedy full back Cian Kelleher, notching his fifth try of the campaign. Place kicking against the wind was nigh on impossible, and the conversion attempt ended up going into touch on the opposite “22!
Ballynahinch, themselves marking 60 years as a rugby club this season, also had early cause for celebration as lively scrum half Aaron Cairns stole down the blind side for an opportunist try in reply. Out half and captain Harry McAleese’s conversion gave the visitors a 5-7 advantage after 11 minutes play.
Ballynahinch availed of the gale to take a 10-5 lead when right winger Chris Quinn steered a 50 meter kick through the posts in the 15th minute. The Lansdowne scrum began to assert its authority, and live-wire hooker Tyrone Moran was on hand to score and capitalise on some good continuity play which had brought the attack to the visitor’s line.
Parity was short-lived, however, as once again Quinn judged the following wind to perfection to bisect the posts from the halfway line for a 13-10 lead after 33 minutes. In truth, Lansdowne would have been more than happy to be in such close touch as half time approached; however, a break down in the Ballynahinch attack say the ball kicked through by scrum half Paddy O’Driscoll. The loose ball was then pursued by the tigerish Foster Horan. Horan always had the edge on his man and, when he was obstructed by the stretched visitor’s cover, the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try. Scott Deasy struck the conversion to record his 101st points of the campaign.
Better was still to come as, deep into first half injury time, good work down the left in which second row Brian Moylett played his part, led to an opportunist block down and a try for outside centre Tom Farrell, his sixth of the AIL programme. This secured the precious bonus point before half-time, and the visitors had a mountain to climb as they turned around into the wind 22-13 down.
Ballynahinch are a local, community-based club, and they play with great spirit and no little ability. For the first ten minutes of the second half they took the game to Lansdowne, and it was only in the 12th minute that the siege was relieved following good play by No. 8 Jack Dilger, who had a robust game. Substitute Tadgh Byrne, making a welcome return, came on as a replacement for Rhodri Jones and made a significant impact in the loose.
Out half Deasy crafted an excellent penalty between the uprights after 55 minutes to stretch the home lead, and this was followed by the try of the match, scored by the pacey Horan, who latched onto an inside pass and shrugged off several would-be tacklers to cross for a fine effort, which Deasy again goaled.
Flanker Joe O’Brien shipped a knock putting in a strong tackle and had been replaced just prior to Horan’s score by Rhodri Jones, availing of the rolling subs rule. Lansdowne continued to press and were rewarded with a sixth try by the ever-alert Moylett, who crossed for the second week in a row. Deasy once again knocked over the extras and Lansdowne were 39-13 ahead.
The last hurrah was reserved for the gutsy visitors, for whom no. 7 Paul Pritchard had an outstanding match, as winger Ross Adair struck for his seventh try of the campaign. It was a token reward, however, as Lansdowne eased out worthy victors by 39 points to 18 and revenged their 14-10 loss in October.
With 5 matches left – 4 of them away – Lansdowne are now in the box seat for a home semi-final. As we saw with Terenure earlier in the season, however, momentum is everything and there will be no complacency among Coach Mike Ruddock’s troops as they face into the most challenging part of their season. Make sure you are a part of the team, and support your club in the coming weeks on the road!
Match Report: Michael Daly
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