Lansdowne have developed the good habit of winning tight games this season, and the same was the case last Saturday on the Aviva back pitch when they recorded their 13th win out of 16 matches in beating Cok Con 27-20 in what is proving to be a highly-competitive and hard-fought Division 1A of the Ulster Bank League.
Cork Constitution are themselves fighting for a place in the play-offs and, ironically, if things finish as at present they would return to the Aviva for the semi-final. As things stand, their winning bonus point was enough to put them into fourth, as both Ballynahinch and UCD lost.
There was a familiar pattern to this game, with the best front row in the league, Ian Prendiville, Tyrone Moran and Adam “Teddy” Boland once again dominating the scrum exchanges with a series of penalties and strikes against the head which denied the visitors a platform for much of the match. All three also retained sufficient energy to feature prominently in the loose, with Boland, in particular, hitting a high tackle count.
When Cork Con did manage to hold their scrum ball, possession was generally on the back foot, where they had to work very hard to retain go-forward ball.
Despite winning a penalty in our first scrum put-in and turning Con over in theirs, the first blood fell to the visitors when, in the 10th minute, quick hands saw impressive winger and former Ireland Under 20 international Darren Sweetnam cross for a well-worked try. Lansdowne were winning plenty of possession, but lacked cohesion as a series of knock-ons and poor handling frustrated their efforts.
Welshman Rhodri Jones replaced unfortunate back-rower Joe O’Brien, who shipped a hard knock but fortunately appeared to recover quickly. Jones took full advantage of his opportunity and showed considerable intelligence and good ball skills during his time on the pitch.
Following a period of stop-start play with both sides struggling to cope with a swirling wind that had the flags on either side of the pitch blowing in opposite directions at the same time, Lansdowne finally clicked into gear.
Putting together their best passage of play in the match, they went through multiple phases in which former Cork Constitution stalwart Joe McSwiney featured prominently before hooker Tyrone Moran took a pop ball from out half Conor McKeon to dive over wide on the right and round-off a great team try. The kick was missed, but Lansdowne had shaken off their early lethargy and appeared to be on their way.
Or so we thought. Instead, the visitors surged into attack and were rewarded with a somewhat fortuitous, if opportunistic, try when out half Tom Quinlan, having first had a drop goal attempt blocked down, gathered the ball, chipped ahead and collected the bounce to skip across the line in front of a stunned Lansdowne defence.
10-5 up after 33 minutes, the visitors were then forced to defend following a good break by scrum half Paddy O’Driscoll which took play into the Con 22. They survived that attack, but had no answer in the 39th minute when centres Tom Daly and Tom Farrell again displayed their class as a unit. Once again it was Daly showing his pace and power to create the gap from his own 10 meter line which his partner Farrell was only too happy to exploit on his way to the levelling try.
McKeon’s conversion from midway out ensured the home side hit the front for the first time, 12-10, at the interval in what had largely been a stop-go affair, with turn-overs aplenty conceded in contact and retention skills not matching the side’s high standards.
Coach Mike Ruddock would have emphasised this to his charges during the interval, and there was a general tightening up after the interval. Lansdowne opened brightly, and the ever-present Aaron Conneely launched a good attack which was carried on by Prendiville and Boland only for the referee to halt the momentum with a penalty. McKeon tacked on a penalty for 15-10 in the 45th minute, only to have Quinlan neutralise it three minutes later.
Following a stolen line out ball, Lansdowne’s Farrell capitalised on some slack tackling by the Constitution backs to weave his way to the line from all of 50 metres out to record his second try of the match and his tenth of the campaign.
20-13 up after 53 minutes, Lansdowne threatened to pull away. Unsatisfactory ball protection continued to frustrate, however, and stifled the momentum necessary to quench what was proving to be a resolute Cork Con effort. It took a good break-out from Daly to relieve pressure on the Lansdowne defence, with the ref issuing a last warning to the home side following three penalties conceded in as many minutes deep in our own half.
What could have been a cruel blow was struck in the 66th minute, when a break down in a backs move led to a try from half way by the pacey Sweetnam, which was converted by Quinlan, to bring the sides level at 20 points apiece.
Lansdowne refused to yield, however, and patiently worked their way back into attack. Prendiville was unlucky not to hold on to the ball in a promising position, but the home side struck for the win their efforts deserved in the 78th minute when lively sub scrum half Adam Griggs jinked his way through a tiring defence for his second try of the season, which McKeon goaled.
The coaches will have much to ponder and work on in the coming weeks; a visit to Terenure followed by the Cookies in the Killing Fields is some way to round off the league campaign before a home semi-final. This Lansdowne side has become battle-hardened over the course of a long season, however, and there is both confidence and expectation that they will rise to meet all challenges in the coming weeks of what has developed into a fascinating Ulster Bank League Division 1A campaign.
Congratulations to the Third XV, who took to the field after the seniors to round-off an excellent, unbeaten League campaign against a huge Clontarf side in what was a most entertaining and competitive match. Congratulations also to former Club Captain and President of Lansdowne, Leinster and the IRFU, Caleb Powell, and all the members of the victorious 1964-65 Leinster Senior Cup winning side who attended the pre-match lunch.
I look forward to seeing the photograph taken grace the clubhouse walls in the near future. What a season that was for Lansdowne – they won the Senior Cup, the Metro/League double at Seconds level as well as the Minor Cup. Let’s hope the Thirds League win is the first of many for Club President Frank Kenny this season!
Match Report: Michael Daly
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