Metro League – Division 2
12 October 2019
Clontarf 26 – 12 Lansdowne
The visitors from Cork Con that lingered on the balcony of the Clontarf clubhouse after their own AIL fixture were treated to a display of champagne rugby when Lansdowne J2’s took on their northside adversaries there last Saturday. In the end (spoiler alert!), ‘Tarf not only withstood repeated (and according to Shane D’Alton, at least one successful) assaults on their line, but also cruelly snatched an intercept and ran the length of the pitch leaving a distinctly unrepresentative look to the score line.
But let’s go back to the beginning. The opening 20 minutes of this contest were as impressive a spectacle of varied and confident rugby as this observer has seen in years. Our forwards were like a pack of wolves, harassing a herd of lumbering bison as ‘Tarf’s very large and not so mobile pack tried to keep the ball hidden from danger. But when we won the ball our scrum half, Gareth Molloy imposed a calm authority on the game as he unleashed attack after attack from our fast and eager back line. Out-half, Peter Fitzgerald, no giant of a man, would hold the ball bravely ‘till the very last second, taking the inevitable hit, but giving centres Alex Casslin or Oscar O’Cleirigh that vital extra split second to allow them to break the gain line. The handling was sublime, the tackling bone-crunching and even the tactical kicking from the hand (not normally encouraged by Dr Phil) was clinically executed and resulted in our winning back possession much of the time.
Breath-taking as our open play was, our pack performed impressively in the set pieces, particularly the props Brendan O’Malley and Gavin Murray (returning after injury), who scrummed down against men roughly twice their size. The lineouts too were inch perfect with Alex McEvoy finding Henry Lynch with remarkable accuracy, especially as he admitted later, considering he didn’t know the calls!
It seemed almost a pity for this end to end rugby to be interrupted by points, but so it was after 25 minutes when Clontarf converted a penalty. They must have realised that they weren’t going to get close to our line with running rugby and they scored a try a few minutes later with their supersized forwards, setting a rolling maul that started outside the 22m line and trundled all the way over our line. With a conversion that put them 10 points clear. But not for long. From the kick out our athletic lads resumed their masterclass in varied and confident total rugby, spreading the home side’s defence wide and creating gaps in the middle; one of them large enough for even Henry Lynch to fit through and battle for 15 metres to get over the line. Peter Fitzgerald gratefully converted. Score line 10 – 7 on the brink of half time.
But the half isn’t finished yet. Having just scored down the middle, we set up another series of phases, masterfully controlled by Gareth (“Slugger”) Molloy and Peter (Nickname pending) Fitzgerald and the northsiders didn’t dare leave the centre of the pitch undefended, allowing flying full back Shane Donnelly to finish off a multi-phase play in the corner. The conversion was a bit out of Fitzgerald’s range (to put it mildly!) but we went into half time 10 – 12 ahead.
The second half was far less exciting, as the hosts successfully snuffed the life out of the game. They knew they couldn’t out play us, so they cleverly slowed the game down to a crawl and let our frustration do the rest. Not for the first time with Lansdowne sides, frustration led to penalties and Clontarf scored three penalties without answer from us, bringing the score to 19 – 12 with ten minutes to play.
Before relating the final act of this marvellous game, a word about the spirit in which it was played. From the early stages when the ref shouted at the as usual very animated Dr Phil, saying “only players on the pitch please!” and Phil’s old Cork Con pals nearly fell off the balcony laughing, this was an exhibition of good-humoured sportsmanship at its best. The “rival” coaches on the side lines and touch judges under the posts all marvelled at the competitiveness and quality of the play. We couldn’t hear what was said from the sidelines, but at one point the scrum had to be re-set because both packs were laughing so much!
But both sides came to compete, as well as enjoy themselves and so in the closing stages Lansdowne set about their campaign to have their classier play rewarded with a try. We camped in their 22 for the last ten minutes and – perhaps not so wisely – tried to muscle our way over the line with rolling mauls and short rucks. To this observer, it almost looked like we were going to beat them at their own game! So successful was our siege of their line , indeed, that the ref awarded us a penalty and sent one of their players to the line on a yellow card for repeated offending. And this is where the tragedy struck. While half of our guys – and the entire band of Lansdowne supporters – were suggesting politely to the ref that logically it had to be a penalty try, we took a quick penalty. Too quick it seems for some of our own players, and as the ball was passed hastily out the line, an eagle-eyed defender swooped in and intercepted it, launching desperate foot race all the way down the pitch to our line. A kick forward and lucky bounce later and instead of the draw we and the game so richly deserved, we finished two tries adrift. 26 – 12.
It was a disappointing result but a great match and an exciting glimpse of what this group is capable of. We played all the rugby, but Clontarf played the ref!
Another moment to remember, was in the changing room later when Peter Fitzgerald was excusing himself for his less than stellar performance kicking for points, he said “I haven’t kicked since I was in 6th year in school!”, to which someone asked, “Were you any better then?!”
Match report: Brian Whelan