IrishRugby.ie, the IRFU’s official website, was unequivocal in its match prediction last Friday – “Clontarf to win.”
Having come back, Lazarus-like, to snatch a 23-all draw in the home fixture against the same opponents late last November, Lansdowne were distinctly firm favorites to come second in this Dublin derby, while Clontarf were expected to keep pace with table-toppers UCD and condemn the Headquarters side to their first defeat of the year.
Instead, it was the visitors, with Captain Scott Deasy in the van, who snatched the spoils with a gutsy and committed performance which turned the bookies’ odds on their heads.
Lansdowne got off to the perfect start on Clontarf’s new 4G pitch as ‘Tarf were penalised in the first scrum. Early pressure almost saw the Northsider’s second row Tom Byrne through, but a great break out of defence by open side Charlie Butterworth saw play into the home half. After 10 minutes a snappy break from scrum half Adam Griggs, who was always threatening, saw several phases bring play to the Clontarf line, but the ball was knocked on.
Their early pressure not having yielded results, Lansdowne nonetheless took the lead in the 18th minute with a well-struck penalty by Deasy from the 10 metre line. Three minutes later, lively winger Ian Fitzpatrick returned a kick out of defence with a great run to the Clontarf line, but was judged to be held up. From the resultant 5-metre scrum Griggs plunged over for the opening try and Deasy’s accurate kick saw the visitor’s lead stretch to 10-0.
Clontarf were shaken, but stormed onto the attack. A try saving tackle by Deasy on No. 8 Anthony Ryan after 35 minutes was followed by a tremendous intercept by Mark Roche which saw the centre bring play from his own 22 to the opposition’s, but he was eventually hauled down by the covering Michael McGrath. A penalty was won, however, and Deasy once again did the honours with a well-struck second penalty.
In reply, Clontarf surged forward deep in first half injury time for out half Joey Carbery to create an unconverted try for winger Rob McGrath to leave the score line Clontarf 5 Lansdowne 13 and a well-deserved lead for the visitors at the interval.
Taking inspiration from their score before the break, Clontarf enjoyed their best period of the game after the resumption, although their policy of kicking long down the middle gained scant reward, and their persistence with this tactic during a period when they dominated possession up front was hard to fathom. Nonetheless, they began to chip away at the Lansdowne lead, with Carberry adding two penalties after 5 and 10 minutes of the second half to narrow the gap to 11-13.
Full back Eamonn Mills showed great skill with a catch, chip and chase into the Clontarf ’22, and was tripped by sub scrum half Sam Cronin, who was sent to the bin for 10 minutes for his trouble. Deasy was unable to avail of the penalty shot, but made no mistake from a more difficult effort from 28 metres wide on the right after 21 minutes to stretch the gap to 5 points, 11-16.
Lansdowne winger Finn Gormley did well to contain the Clontarf danger-man Michael McGrath, who failed to add to his 9 try haul in the League this season, while up front second row James Ryan and the back row of Tadhg Byrne, Charlie Butterworth and the unfortunate Joe O’Brien, until his early injury, were prominent.
Clontarf continued to boss things up front, and took the lead for the first time after 72 minutes with a driving line-out maul from the ’22 that saw sub back row Eoghan Brown plunge over wide out for Carberry to convert for an 18-16 lead to the home side.
Lansdowne still had time to mend their hand, and a great run by Captain Deasy, who had a memorable match, saw play into the ‘Tarf ’22, but the ball was lost forward. In the 76th minute an excellent driving maul into the home defence saw the maul brought down, but the referee failed to penalise the home forwards. Nonetheless, Lansdowne were building up significant momentum as they dug deep in seeking victory.
After a period of pick and goes and sustained pressure on the Clontarf defence, the dam was eventually breached and the ref. blew for the decisive penalty from 28 metres out in front of the posts. Deasy stepped forward, and the rest, as they say, is history. A fine performance which, if it didn’t match the heights of the 35-0 win at the same venue last season, was nonetheless built on a gritty, committed performance in which every man in the Lansdowne colours played his honourable part.
The Headquarters Club are off to a great start in 2016 with two wins out of two, while great rivals Clontarf, having lost only three games in the League thus far, are yet to win in 2016.
The irony of Lansdowne’s victory is that they drop one place in the League table to 6th, although the Club is well placed only one point off third in the table.
So, a week that marked the sad loss of a great Lansdowne stalwart in the figure of long-time Hon. Secretary Frank Thompson, a true rugby gentleman from Limerick and a wonderful servant of the club, saw his beloved Lansdowne honour his passing with a wonderful and hard-earned victory. May Frank Rest in Peace.
Match Report: Michael Daly
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