It’s a long way since last September the 12th, when Lansdowne opened the new season’s campaign with a fine 29-6 home victory against last Saturday’s opponents, Young Munster.
One of the common denominators between the two matches was that, once again, loose head prop Ian Prendiville was the only survivor from last season’s Lansdowne Ulster Bank All Ireland League-winning pack.
They say that change is good; total upheaval, however, is an entirely different matter. While the side was bolstered during the season by the emergence of young Under 20 tyros in James Ryan – what a prospect – and Max Deegan and the return to the colours late in the season of Charlie Butterworth, a member of the previous All Ireland winning side in 2013, nonetheless it is an inescapable fact that no club – or coaching team for that matter – can expect to virtually reinvent itself in one season.
In this regard, although Lansdowne finished in seventh position in the League – the year following the 2013 season, when a similar decimation of player resources occurred, they finished in a highly- creditable sixth position – the coaching staff and team management can take considerable satisfaction in their season’s achievement. Reconstruction takes time and, in truth, survival was never far off the agenda from last September onwards.
Watching the Lansdowne squad warm-up on a sunny April afternoon last Saturday, there was a clear level of commitment and the degree of engagement of all concerned was genuinely impressive. What was perhaps lacking on the day was that intangible factor that cannot be measured in physical output – the motivation of having something to play for, other than simply pride.
This factor, unquestionably, was the difference between the two teams last Saturday. Lansdowne played well, and defended particularly well, for long phases of this match against opponents who had the motivation of a home semi-final against Cork Constitution as an incentive if they could achieve a try bonus point. In stark contrast, it was a dead rubber for their opponents. That they could not achieve their bonus point objective was to the credit of a Lansdowne side that finished the match the stronger, but who were ultimately unable to break down the home defence.
Had the visitor’s line out functioned in any way – three five-metre penalty line out opportunities were wasted – there might have been a different outcome. Overall, unfortunately, the line-out was a disaster area throughout in not particularly windy conditions.
Tight head prop Martin Moore, needing game time, played for the first forty minutes, and assisted the Lansdowne scrum in gaining three penalties during the first half, the second of which was kicked by Captain Scott Deasy after 8 minutes for a 3-0 lead. Remarkably, these were the only penalties awarded to the Headquarters club during the first half, and the penalty count during the 40 minutes was 8-3 to a home side hell-bent on revenging last season’s semi-final extra-time defeat.
Lansdowne’s lead was short lived; centre Dan Goggin burst through the visitor’s midfield defence in the Cookies first meaningful attack in the 18th minute for a soft score that was converted by Gearoid Lyons for a 7-3 lead to the home side. The home side continued to exert pressure, but their only reward was a penalty struck by Lyons deep into first half injury time, which left the scores at 10-3 to Young Munster.
Jack Barry replaced Martin Moore at half time as Lansdowne capitalised on a defensive mistake to bring play to the home 5-metre line with a penalty. This was one of the lost line-outs at a critical stage of the match when an early score could perhaps have had a significant impact on proceedings.
The home side took advantage of Lansdowne’s failings, and their big pack, in which second row Sean Duggan and blind side Sean Rennison were impressive, began to dominate proceedings against their younger opposition as they rucked, mauled and carried aggressively. Lansdowne found ball retention difficult, and the turn-over count against them began to increase.
Young Munster struck a decisive blow in the 55th minute of the match when winger Jack Harrington capitalised on pressure on the Lansdowne line to canter over in the right hand corner for an unconverted try.
The home side raised their game, and went searching for the two additional tries that would have put Cork Con on the bus to The Yellow Road next Saturday. They did manage to score one of them, as centre Lyons breached the Lansdowne midfield defence again for a try which he converted himself after 33 minutes. However, it was Lansdowne who finished the stronger, although they were unable to convert territorial positioning into points on the board.
So, a campaign that presented the Lansdowne Club with a serious rebuilding challenge was weathered, if not perhaps in the style that Coach Mike Ruddock would have desired. There’s talk of Tyrone Moran returning from London Scottish for next season; some of our voluntary emigres – the likes of Brian Moylett, Stephen Gardiner, Joe McSwiney and Aaron Conneely may return - and a new crop of Under 20’s will arrive.
There’s always room for optimism and, no doubt, next year we will be in the thick of things again at the business-end of the season….
See you all in September!
Match Report: Michael Daly
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Article related to 1stXV v Young Munster fixture.