An entertaining and competitive battle on the Aviva back pitch saw Lansdowne narrowly squeeze by a Belvedere side which was up for the occasion to record their first League victory of 2015 and their sixth on the bounce.
With Terenure loosing for the fourth time in five, the Headquarters club has now extended its lead to seven points at the top of the league and in prime position to achieve a top four play-off spot.
That’s the rosy picture; coach Mike Ruddock is well aware that, of the team’s seven remaining fixtures, no less than five are away from home and the path to securing a semi-final berth is still far from being nailed down. Trips to Clontarf, UCD and Terenure, in particular, will fully test his charges’ mettle.
This Lansdowne squad has certainly not proved wanting so far this season. The home scrum was, once again, the platform in this victory, and the stalwart front row of Peter Dooley – how opposition tight heads must hate the sight of him – Tyrone Moran and Ian Prendiville, now switching to tight head, caused huge problems for their ‘Belvo counterparts all evening. At one stage, between the 17th and 44th minutes, the powerful Lansdowne scrum won five penalties in succession, while the decisive score in the 48th minute by full-back Cian Kelleher (the recipient of the Ulster Bank Rising Star of the Month award for November) came off a turned-over Belvo scrum put-in.
The visitors missed an early chance to take the lead when right winger Josh Glynn failed with a reasonable penalty chance after two minutes. A great re-gather of a Scott Deasy punt by the lively Lansdowne 6, Joe O’Brien, led to an early chance for the home side which was not capitalised on.
Lansdowne then took the lead with a well struck Deasy penalty after 11 minutes when Old Belvedere were penalised for not rolling away in the ruck.
Within minutes, Old Belvedere went ahead following a simple, training ground move as a line out ball was tapped back inside from the tail by Kieran O’Gorman to No. 6 Michael Oyuga, who caught the Lansdowne defence knapping to cross unopposed for a 5-3 lead to the visitors.
Two of the subsequent scrum penalties mentioned above saw the reliable Deasy restore Lansdowne’s lead at 9-5. The home side then seemingly tightened their grip on the game in the 36th minute when, off a penalty line-out just outside the Belvedere ’22, a brilliantly-controlled driving maul saw Joe O’Brien plunge over for a try, which was converted by Deasy for a 16-5 lead. This lead was cut by Glynn with a penalty in the third minute of first-half injury time to leave the scores 16-8 at the interval.
Lansdowne then established what appeared to be an unassailable lead in the 49th minute, when quick hands across the back-line off a turned-over scrum saw Kelleher cross the line. Kelleher always threatened with ball in hand, and was ably supported by centres Tom Farrell and Tom Daly, while flanker Aaron Conneely was his usual industrious self and prop Dooley, in addition to his great display in the tight, also showed up well in the loose, along with sub Ross Deacon.
This was, however, to be Lansdowne’s last score and the game turned on the hour as home right winger John Coleman was sin-binned in a last-ditch attempt to halt a 'Belvo attack. The visitor’s loose-head prop Adam Howard then crashed over to the left of the posts, and Glynn's successful kick closed the gap to 21-15.
'Belvo’s fight-back continued, with captain Jonathan Slattery, scrum half Cathal O’Flynn and centre Peter Robb prominent, and they could have scored when presented with a three-on-one overlap in the 78th minute – winger Shane McDonald attacked from inside his own half with Robb and sub Rory O'Loughlin outside him. The winger cut inside and backed himself, only for the speedy Kelleher to bring him down inches from the line as the Lansdowne defence scrambled back. Dooley was one of those defenders and, when he was guilty of not rolling away quickly enough, was sin-binned.
Lansdowne struck back with a brilliant break-out by Tom Farrell only for the pass to Kelleher to go astray with the try-line beckoning.
Oyuga and O'Loughlin then both came close to scoring for Belvo, and it took immense work and character on the part of the Lansdowne defence to keep them out. However, 'Belvo were sucking players into the ruck, which left space out wide for McDonald to touch down in the right corner in injury-time, leaving just a single point between the sides.
The final kick of the match was two meters in from the corner, and Glynn pulled his effort across the front of the posts to leave Lansdowne victors of the hard-earned spoils.
Next up is a visit across the river to Clontarf on Saturday next, the 10th of January, for another crucial match on the road to the play-offs.
Wishing you all a very Happy and Peaceful New Year!
Match Report: Michael Daly
Article related to 1st XV team.
Article related to 1stXV v Old Belvedere fixture.