Lansdowne gained ample revenge for their defeat at the hands of Ballynahinch exactly one month previously with a bonus point victory over the bottom-placed side on a balmy early January day last Saturday.
Conditions could not have been more different to those experienced at Ballymacarn Park in early December, and a slight breeze was the only element on display in well-nigh perfect playing conditions.
The home side showed seven changes – five in the backline – and, in addition to centres Tom Daly and Tom Farrell, also welcomed back scrum half Adam Griggs and winger Ian Fitzpatrick following long-term injuries.
A new, yet familiar face also featured in the forwards, with Charlie Butterworth, one of the heroes of the 2012-13 AIL League winning side, making a welcome re-appearance in the back row following stints in the professional game with Ulster and Jersey. Charlie brought his usual abrasive and competitive style to the fray, and his physicality was of great assistance in matching a powerful Ballynahinch pack.
The young Lansdowne forwards had largely struggled in the previous encounter, as Ballynahinch used their rolling maul and rucking approach to dominate possession and deny the Headquarters side the ball. From the outset on Saturday, however, it was evident that the home forwards were up for the fight, as they took on the ‘Hinch pack from the first scrum and drove them backwards to win a penalty.
From the resultant line out the Lansdowne backs, with centre Tom Daly and Butterworth prominent, set up a promising attack which forced the visitors to concede a straightforward penalty. This was duly dispatched by out-half Scott Deasy for an early 3-0 lead.
The next scrum led to another Lansdowne penalty and a good break by the lively Adam Griggs towards the visitor’s ’22 was followed up by a block down by the same player. A slick back move then saw blind side Ian Fitzpatrick enter the line and the winger’s speed carried him through the cover for the opening try in the 11th minute. Captain Deasy added the extras with a fine conversion from wide out.
‘Hinch left winger Chris Quinn once again showed his kicking prowess with a well-struck penalty from 3 metres inside the Lansdowne half after 15 minutes. He repeated the effort from a foot inside the Lansdowne half for 10-6 eight minutes later when Lansdowne messed up at the back of a scrum.
Lansdowne adopted a policy of not engaging with the Ballynahinch line-out maul, using the tactic to good effect to neutralise one of the visitor’s primary attacking ploys and then coming around the sides to attack the ball carrier, there being no maul and therefore no off-side.
Use of this tactic disrupted the visitors, and a subsequent backline move broke down in the face of strong Lansdowne tackling. Fitzpatrick seized on the loose ball, made ground and then passed to Daly, who straightened and flipped the ball to the supporting Deasy, who made it to the left corner. The skipper added the extras from the touchline for a 17-6 Lansdowne lead after 28 minutes.
Even better was to come two minutes later, when Deasy availed of a penalty advantage to float a teasing cross-kick that was seized upon by the ever-alert Fitzpatrick. He skated home from the 10-metre line for his second try of the match, with Deasy once again landing the convert.
Lansdowne continued to make the running, and good play by back rower Max Deegan, Tom Daly and Tom Farrell almost saw Joe O’Brien put Fitzpatrick in for a further try. Nothing came of it, however, and Quinn had the last say of the half with another fine effort from just inside the Lansdowne half, which cleared the dead ball line.
Leading by 24 points to 9 at half time, Lansdowne set their sights on the bonus point from the restart. Two further electric bursts from the dynamic Fitzpatrick could have resulted in a further try for the winger, only scrambling defence from the visitors keeping the home side at bay. Lansdowne build up great momentum in a series of attacking lineouts from penalties, and were rewarded when their most –promising young second row, James Ryan, crossed from a driving maul for his debut try for the club.
The kick was missed but, 29 points to 9 ahead on the hour and the bonus point in the bag, things seemed set fair for the home side to kick on and record a comprehensive victory. They appeared to take their foot off the pedal, however, and a series of substitutions seemed to disrupt the side’s cohesion.
To their credit, Ballynahinch never gave up and raised their game to the extent that it was not inconceivable before the end that they could snatch an improbable victory. First winger Adam Craig crossed in the 60th minute and then lively No. 8 Conor Joyce did the same as the Lansdowne cover defence faltered. Quinn converted the latter and suddenly the gap was reduced to 29-21.
Former Terenure and Leinster Under 20 loose head and now Ulster Academy player Craig Trenier was always prominent for the visitors, and was ably supported by No. 8 Conor Joyce, lively hooker Zac McCall and skipper Paul Pritchard, who had an excellent match.
Lansdowne were on the back foot, and a great covering tackle by winger Mark Roche saved an anxious moment. A great turnover by prop Ian Prendiville also helped relieve the mounting pressure, but the respite was only temporary. A further ‘Hinch attack was halted by a great aerial take by full back Eamonn Mills. This helped set up a counter-attack from which Fitzpatrick was again unlucky not to score as the match see-sawed from end-to end with both teams seeking to deliver the killer blow.
Quinn reduced the margin further with his fourth penalty on 70 minutes. From the re-start, Fitzpatrick was adjudged to have hit the catcher in the air, and a yellow card brought an early end to his part in the proceedings. Lansdowne knuckled back down to the task and, despite one or two hairy moments, held out for a memorable win which had everyone watching holding their breaths until the last minute. A great match and a tribute to both sides.
Next up is a visit this coming Saturday to DNS to take on our Northside rivals, Clontarf. Please apply early to have your visa stamped and make sure you are there to support your Club!
Match Report: Michael Daly
Article related to 1st XV team.
Article related to 1stxV v Ballynahinch fixture.