Wanderers 26 – 26 Lansdowne
The New Year opened with a sparkling 52 point exchange in Merrion Road between Wanderers J1 and Lansdowne J2s, but with three tries disallowed and a couple of very near misses, captain Rob Kelly’s charges left the pitch disappointed they didn’t get the win.
Conditions were perfect and both sides showed early signs of intent to run freely as the ball moved fluently from side to side, Wanderers seeming to have the edge in the early encounters. The forwards were well matched overall; the larger home pack were in control of the scrums, while we owned the lineouts, with hooker Rory O’Donnell and jumpers Aaron Daly and Jacques Chapeau working in perfect harmony throughout the game.
First blood went to the home side after our first lapse of concentration, with their pack moving ruck ball quickly to the blind side inside our 22 where their loose forwards created an overlap for the winger to go over in the corner. 5-0 after 12 minutes.
Our response was robust and effective and we dominated play for the remainder of the half, though a couple more lapses in defence gave the score board a flattering appearance for the hosts at half time. Our first points came when number 8, Donal Liddy finished off a fine series of phases with a blistering break down the middle of the pitch, showing a clean pair of heels to defenders as he scored under the post. Centre Bill MacNamara did the honours with the conversion and the score was 5 – 7.
But again our concentration briefly let us down and the hosts back in, as they soon returned to our danger zone and broke through our central defences to score under the post. 12 – 7.
Spare a thought for the ageing touch judge at this point as no sooner had he put up his flag for the Wanderers conversion at one end than Lansdowne were down at the other end of the pitch again, pounding the hosts’ line and, as if incensed by the defensive lapses, winger Jack Mulcahy finished off a fine attacking sequence. Bill obliged again bringing us even 12 – 12.
We would cross their line two more times before half time, but the first try from the other winger, Kevin O’Connor was reversed just before Bill took the conversion, with the ref revising his original award of a try based on irrefutable forensic evidence of skid marks over the dead ball. Not for the last time that day, Lansdowne would be disappointed by tough but fair decisions by the ref. Undaunted, before long we were over again as Bill Mac powered over the line, finishing off a bewildering break from the ever-elusive out half Stephen Morris. Bill took this conversion in record time (just in case) and we went into half-time 12 – 19.
The second half opened even better than the first one closed, with Captain Rob leading from the front by knocking down an attempted clearance kick from the restart, gathering the ball and touching down under the posts. 12 – 26 after another conversion from Bill Mac.
But that was the last mistake the home side would make for the afternoon. Though we still seemed to be playing the better rugby, our dominance didn’t find its way to the score board. They were quietly tightening up their act, their scrum now dominant and their line out finally equal to our own. Our open style of play, while entertaining for the impartial observer, left gaps in defence which this canny Wanderers side exploited ruthlessly. Such gaps resulted in their scoring twice in a space of less than ten minutes and with less than five minutes to go, we were stunned to find ourselves all square at 26 a piece. We attacked their line with all the dwindling strength we could muster and though we seemed to have scored twice, the ref correctly called both close decisions against us. First, the last pass was correctly deemed to be forward, next though sub hooker Sean Grimley got over the line, he was just held up. Both decisions, while heart-breaking for Lansdowne supporters, were fair.
This was an excellent attacking performance from Lansdowne against a competent Wanderers J1 side, though our attacking flair and enterprise was not quite matched on the day by concentration in defence.
Special mention for some notable performances, particularly from the relatively new arrivals. Already mentioned outhalf “Stewie” Morris showed great flair and leadership throughout the game, breaking the line, kicking intelligently for position and setting up one try, and three more near misses. Back row, Matt Whelehan also made a great impact from the bench and tight head prop Johnny Barry performed particularly well in the tough scrums and was excellent around the pitch, especially in defence. There’ll never be another Paddy Butler, but it seems as old soldiers leave the field, plenty of new ones step up in their place.
Big day in HQ next Saturday 28th as the J2s take on another J1 side, Naas as the centerpiece of the “Festival of Junior Rugby”.
If you can’t make it to Garryowen for the 1st XV, support junior rugby at HQ!
Match report Brian Whelan