After the heady heights of last season’s dramatic climax to the Ulster Bank All Ireland Division 1A title race, it was back to basics for Head Coach Mike Ruddock and his able assistants, Mark McHugh and Will Matthews, as they took on a powerful Young Munster side hell-bent on revenging last season’s semi-final defeat in extra-time.
As burly prop Ian Prendiville looked at his fellow forwards as they lined up for the new season kick off, he would have been forgiven for thinking he had changed clubs. Of the eight Lansdowne forwards who had started the AIL final four months previously, he was the sole survivor.
Peter Dooley (Leinster); Tyrone Moran (London Scottish); Brian Moylett and Ron Boucher (injured); Stephen Gardiner, Joe McSwiney and Aaron Conneely (emigrated) left behind a huge void that had to be filled before the season started. There were, however, still some fairly familiar faces in the pack; back rowers Ross Deacon, Conor O’Donnell and Joe O’Brien all had some AIL experience over the past several years, while prop Jack Barry was no novice and Jack McKenna (starting hooker) and prop ‘Tinga Mpiko on the bench made sure that last year’s successful Under 20’s were represented.
The backs line-up had a more familiar ring to it – four of them had started the 2015 final – and the class and experience of Mark Roche, Foster Horan and the two Toms, Daly and Farrell as well as out half and captain, Scott Deasy, shone through more and more as the game developed, while new full back Eamonn Mills (Dolphin) - nephew of Gus Aherne and Paddy Costigan – proved his prowess both in the air and on the counter-attack.
Not that Lansdowne had things their own way – it was quite the contrary early on, as a massive Young Munster pack sought to dominate proceedings through brute force as they rucked, mauled and carried aggressively. Indeed, during the first period, if their kicker, out half Alan Ross, converted two relatively straight-forward penalty efforts, the visitors would have turned around with more than a 6-3 lead. As it stood at the break, Ross had dropped a neat goal from 40 metres on 15 minutes and cancelled an equalising penalty from Scott Deasy after 37 minutes.
If the Cookies had looked the more physically powerful side during the first half, Lansdowne had looked the more dynamic, and the aggressive ball carrying and general play of Buccaneer’s recruit Josh O’Rourke, in particular, stood out. He was ably supported in the second row by former Cork Con stalwart Phil Donnellan, while Barry, Prendiville and Deacon at No. 8 were not found wanting for effort.
Much is spoken of strength and conditioning in the modern game, and Lansdowne’s is second to none. During the third quarter of an always absorbing match, the Young Munster pack’s efforts began to flag as the smaller but livelier Lansdowne eight began to systematically dismantle them. Take a bow, S&C coach Ciaran Walsh! The artificial pitch always ensures a high tempo game, and the Lansdowne forwards continued to play at a pace that the visitors simply couldn’t match. The scrums, relatively even at the start, became a source of Lansdowne dominance and penalties accumulated as Barry and Prendiville set about their business.
Once Lansdowne cut down on the unforced errors and their systems began to work, their greater cohesion paid dividends. Add to that the touch of sheer quality centre Tom Farrell brought to the proceedings in the 45th minute when his outside break from his own ’22 metre line led to a mazy, darting run that had the poor Cookies full back, Craig O’Hanlon, tied in knots long before Farrell crossed for what was a smashing effort. Deasy added the conversion and Lansdowne were ahead for the first time, 10-6.
This was followed shortly afterwards by a great thrust by powerful left winger Foster Horan, who came in from the blind side and carved through the Young Munster defence. The move broke down close to the Cookies line, but Lansdowne were now in full cry. With Munster’s left winger Darragh O’Neill in the bin, good, creative use of possession and a compelling build-up of momentum saw Lansdowne cross for a push over try scored by No. 8 Ross Deacon, which was not added to.
Matt D’Arcy, son of Lansdowne Minis and Youths legend Mick, came on after 60 minutes as a sub for Padjo O’Driscoll, who had a fine match. The Lansdowne machine continued its well-oiled progress, and they were rewarded in the 65th minute with a penalty try after a Munster’s forward kicked the ball out of an advancing 5 metre scrum. Deasy stroked over the simple conversion and the home side were home and hosed at 22-6.
The bonus point was achieved in the 66th minute when the alert Tom Daly intercepted a wayward pass on the 10 metre line and strolled over between the posts. Scott Deasy once again tagged on the extras from a simple position and Lansdowne led by 29 points to 6.
An unfortunate injury to Young Munster centre, Mark Doyle, saw play held up for almost 20 minutes, and we all hope that he makes a speedy recovery. While Young Munster made valiant late efforts when play resumed, the steam had gone out of the game and Lansdowne ran out worthy winners.
Congratulations to all concerned in melding what was virtually a new pack into a cohesive and effective unit within such a short space of time. While work is undoubtedly still needed – the line-out in particular, and in reducing the number to turn-overs conceded - for a first round match this was a sterling effort. Coach Ruddock spoke during the week in an Irish Times article of a period of consolidation after the loss of so many players; the guys themselves clearly have other ideas….
Match Report: Michael Daly
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