Visitors to Templeville Road last Friday evening were treated to a feast of attacking rugby that proved a fitting entré to the main event of the weekend - Ireland’s thrilling, edge-of-the seat victory over the visiting Aussies.
Records and landmarks were broken and set – Lansdowne out half Scott Deasy, in imperious form, converted eight out of his nine attempts at goal and, in kicking 20 points on the night, brought his season’s tally in the League to 90 points. In doing so, he also established himself as the club’s all-time top scorer in the All Ireland League. A fitting tribute to a fine player who ran the show for Lansdowne and was a major contributor to victory on the night.
Former St. Michael’s and Connacht Academy winger Marc O’Keeffe also highlighted his AIL debut for Lansdowne with a brace of tries.
But it was a player who didn’t make it onto the scoresheet who made the most telling contribution on the night – centre Mark Roche was at the heart of almost all Lansdowne’s best efforts, and can look back on his considerable contribution with great pride.
St. Mary’s were disrupted by injury and this certainly didn’t help the home side as they sought to contain a Lansdowne side that has been improving week by week. The visitors themselves lost flanker Charlie Butterworth before the start, wit Under 20 Jack O’Sullivan a most impressive replacement.
Barely a minute was on the scoreboard before left winger O’Keeffe made his mark, picking off a loose pass to race clear under the posts for an early tonic for the visitors to which Deasy had no difficulty in adding the extras - 7-0.
If Lansdowne thought things were going to be easy, they were mistaken. Mary’s went straight on the offensive, and were rewarded with a scrum penalty on the ’22 after four minutes which Conor Deane, son of the great Paul (and Mick Kearney’s successor as Irish Manager) put away tidily for 7-3. He reduced the margin to one point with a second penalty as Lansdowne were put under pressure by the home side’s driving line-out maul, conceding their fourth penalty inside 10 minutes as scrum half Alan Bennie strayed off-side.
Lansdowne, using the Templeville hill, began to exert pressure of their own, and from a line-out maul pressed deep into the St. Mary’s ’22. O’Keeffe was held up over the line and several other strong surges were repelled, and it looked as if Mary’s had beaten off the visitor’s best efforts. From the middle of the park, however, Mark Roche suddenly cut loose with a beautiful break to set O’Keeffe away for his second try of the night. Scott Deasy converted from half way out for a 14-6 lead after 22 minutes.
Moments later, Lansdowne stole a home lineout and Roche exploited the quick ball and disorganised defence to send right winger Daniel McEvoy, who also have a fine match, into the right-hand corner for a 19-6 lead as Deasy had what was to be his only kicking blemish on the night.
The home side responded by exerting considerable pressure on the Lansdowne defence, opting for a scrum from a penalty as the penalty count against the Headquarter’s side mounted (9-2 in the first half). A further penalty saw Jack O’Sullivan yellow-carded as the ref. ran out of patience. Mary’s capitalised on their numerical superiority with a further Deane penalty after 33 minutes and a try by second row David O’Connor which saw the visitor’s lead reduced to 19-14.
Worse was to come as second row Stephen Gardiner joined O’Sullivan on the naughty chair in first half injury time.
Restored to 14 men just after half time, Mark Roche again made a strong play in ripping a Mary’s ball and setting up a swift counter-attack deep into the Mary’s half. The first half scrummaging difficulties seemed a thing of the past as the second rows switched side and the ref. realised the St. Mary’s lose head was boring in. Deasy made the subsequent penalty from 35 metres out seem effortless as Lansdowne now led 22-14.
If the early second half score was a tonic, the next contribution was a gem. Full back Eamonn Mills gathered a loose kick around the St. Mary’s ten metre line and ran at the advancing defence, jinking his way past two despairing tacklers before arcing around the rest of the Mary’s defenders and accelerating over the line for a sublime individual try. Deasy once again did the necessary and Lansdowne were 29-14 up within 6 minutes of the restart and the try bonus point was secured.
St Mary’s didn’t throw in the towel, however, and they brought play close to the Lansdowne line for a penalty line-out. Their whole side joined in the maul and no. 8 Caelan Doris claimed the resultant try and, with Dean’s conversion, the gap was narrowed to just 8 points, 29-21.
Their early scrum problems now ironed out, Lansdowne were awarded a further scrum penalty after 56 minutes. By this stage it was nearly a foregone conclusion that Deasy would kick them all. He did, and Lansdowne led 32-21.
The see-saw nature of the game continued; now it was St. Mary’s turn to put pressure on the Lansdowne line, with their most-effective line-out maul once again to the fore. They had a golden chance to narrow the gap, but their right winger, Ian O’Neill, couldn’t gather a difficult pass with the line at his mercy.
Lansdowne relieved the siege, and the home side’s chance had gone. The visitors went back on the attack, and brilliant back play by McEvoy, supported by Roche and then quickly recycled to Deasy and Mills, saw play to within 5 metres of the home line. Mary’s were penalised and their replacement prop, Ferron, was yellow carded. The imperious Deasy punished Mary’s with the penalty, and Lansdowne were 35-21 up with 12 minutes remaining.
There was still time for a wonderful cameo by flanker Willie Earl, who pirouetted out of a tackle on the wing and was only hauled down short of the line. St. Mary’s were again penalised (the second half penalty count was 5-3 in Lansdowne’s favour) and, inevitably, Scott Deasy slotted it.
With five minutes remaining, Lansdowne scored a fifth, break-out try as the game home side finally began to wilt. Under 20 sub flanker Barry Fitzpatrick had the pleasure of marking his Senior debut with a try which, to no one’s surprise, was converted by the unflappable, record-breaking Deasy.
A strong Lansdowne performance, and all to play for next weekend. The line-outs were the best of so far this season and, once the initial scrum problems were overcome, this again became a valuable source of penalty possession.
Lansdowne need to take a leaf out of Ireland’s book, however, and improve their discipline - 12 penalties on the night was one more that Ireland conceded in their three matches against the All Blacks and Australia – awesome!
Roll on the Cookies next Saturday!
Match Report: Michael Daly
ST. Marys Col. RFC 21 Lansdowne FC 45
Ulster Bank AIL Division 1A 2016-17
Templeville Road, Fri. 25th November 2016 k.o. 7:30pm
Referee: Mark Patton
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