Lansdowne 45 – 27 Wanderers
Talk about leaving the best wine ’till last.
What a crackling finish to the season! After so many good performances and a few great ones, this side rarely got the results they deserved this year, until last night. From the kick off, the first five minutes were a flurry of evenly matched contests in ruck, maul and tackle, but it soon seemed clear that Lansdowne had the edge. Any doubt was dispelled when a line out 15 metres from the Wanderers line was perfectly thrown by Jack Dineen to his Gallic alter ego Jacques Chapeau and the subsequent maul marched with majesty over the line, captain Peter “Red Bull” Reilly finishing off the move in the corner. 5 – 0.
But our lads were only warming up and what followed was the best passage of 30 minutes play that this correspondent has had the privilege to witness anywhere in years. Right from the Wanderers’ restart, we commanded the play, varying the attack from hard yard drives from Conor Byrne and Jack Moore, to wide and forensically accurate passing out the line. Wanderers’ defence wasn’t bad, but they were made to look like schoolboys as centres Will McEvoy and Diarmuid Morrissey cut through them over and over again, always managing to complete that last pass that had been so elusive earlier in the season.
And the scrums – oh, the scrums! Our front row, Reilly, Dineen and pocket rocket Gavin Murray were giving nearly 10kg a man to their opposite number, but it shows that brawn without brains (yes kids, even in the front row!) is useless, as they drove them back on their heels, forcing penalty after penalty. And the Chaps’ penalties weren’t limited to the scrum collapse. Such was our dominance all over the pitch that they were forced into offside positions to slow down our rapid recycling and after one of many occasions when scrum half Rob Kelly was tackled off the ball, we got a penalty. Rob himself took it quickly and darted over the line, channeling his frustration beautifully into five more points. Oran James, his half-back buddy converted the try and followed it with a penalty a few minutes later to make it 15 points unanswered.
But our purple patch wasn’t over. After another dizzying seven minutes of rugby union at its very best, phase after phase, inside and outside passes, McEvoy and Morrissey teamed up again to draw the Wanderers backs, but let fly a sniper-accurate 20 meter pass to winger Brian Condon who still had a lot to do to beat the covering defence – but beat them he did and Oran converted again bringing the tally to 22 – 0.
It would have taken from the entertainment of the night if it had all been one way traffic, and so it was natural enough when our intensity dropped off a little and Wanderers scored and converted two unspectacular tries in the next ten minutes, giving a respectable half time score line to 22 – 14.
However, when they opened the second half with a penalty, bringing them within a try of catching us, nerves began to tingle a little and the overseas supporters following progress on the Whatsapp group (Howdie Flynner, Kev, Andy etc!), started to ask how long was left. Oran cooled the nerves briefly with another penalty, but Wanderers’ temporary territorial advantage was wiped out when Jacques ripped the ball from a Wanderers’ players grasp inside our 22 and set off on a hamstring-straining gallop down the pitch, only slowing down so Rob Kelly could catch him and receive the pass on their 22m line to go over for his second try. Oran knocked it over and order was restored with the 32 – 17 scoreline.
Now the ref and his two officials had been having a fair enough game so far, even allowing for his reluctance to issue a yellow card in spite of Wanderers’ repeated offences. But around 20 minutes from the end he must have said to himself, “let’s make this interesting”. And so he did. First he gave an indirect free kick for appearing to push too soon in the scrum, then he reversed a penalty decision against Wanderers for … well he made the sign of a hand puppet. But the evidence was there that he had gone a bit sour on the Lansdowne lads and a tighter game might have turned on his bizarre decision to send Jack Dineen into the sin bin for coming in the side of a ruck. Wanderers took advantage of the gift and went over for a try and our creeping anxiety on the sideline was reflected by the sighs of relief when they missed the conversion. 32 -22
But Ol’ Reliable Oran calmed our worried brows yet again with a penalty. Which was just as well as Wanderers scored their best try of the game with an excellently taken catch from their own kick off after Oran’s penalty and within three phases they were over our line in the corner. 38 – 27 with five minutes to go.
Wanderers never gave up trying, but in truth they were a spent force and never really stood a chance all night against this resurgent Lansdowne J2 side. As if to drive that point home, we dominated the closing minutes with the same authority and panache as we had the opening 30. With Jack Dineen back on and nearly all the subs on the field now, our scrums resumed their earlier authority and our rucks and mauls were masterful. No surprise then when Captain Reilly, returning to the pitch to replace a brave but exhausted Gavin Murray, and filled to his gills with Red Bull, broke off the side of a maul, dummied one of their hapless defenders, sprinted 30 meters and in a typical act of selflessness, passed to Paddy Moore on the wing. Paddy brought it back inside, passing to Shane Donnelly who was brought down 15 metres from the line. A ruck forms, and moments later, David Migeon breaks through the middle, off loads to Harry Crowley and he goes over, sealing Wanderers’ fate for the season and closing off one of the best Lansdowne squad performances any of the dozens of supporters have seen for quite some time.
Full time score – 45 – 27.
Sorry this report was of Tolstoy proportions, but you couldn’t do justice to that performance with a few short paragraphs. The lads didn’t want to play this game. It threatened to be a terrible end to a sometimes frustrating season. But like the true Lansdowne men they are, they buried any frustration and turned it into a work of art on the pitch. A great end to the season and hopefully a sign of things to come after the summer break.
Match report: Brian Whelan