J3 V St Marys RFC, Templeville Road, 24 January 2020
St Marys 21 – 29 Lansdowne
The Friday night lights on the back pitch of Templeville Road may not be world class, but they shone brightly on the visiting J3s from Lansdowne who gave a bravura display of junior club rugby at its very best.
The mist that enveloped the pitch at kick off seemed to bode badly for Cathal McNamara’s charges as they conceded a penalty in the first three minutes, followed three minutes later by a drop goal from a confident looking Marys’ back line. But no one panicked. The lads didn’t even worry, as they set about a careful journey into the home side’s territory where we set up camp for much of the rest of the half. And as the mist miraculously cleared, our pack’s, superior mobility and organisation paid its first dividend of the evening, with Tristan Bodoy, one of our welcome U20 additions, finishing off a maul with a try near the corner. And in a further sign of good things to come, outhalf Danny Hogan kicked the long-distance conversion. 6 – 7.
Almost from the kick off to resume play, our fully charged pack moved steadily back up into Marys’ territory working two or three short rucks before John Delany at scrum half hoisted an excellently weighted Garryowen over the tiny but speedy Marys left wing. Our own not so tiny but equally fast right winger, Jaoa Vierra from Portugal set after it like a man possessed, and the sound of his approach must have been enough to loosen their man’s grip on the ball (as well as his bowels). It fell loose and Joao kicked through and gathered it up to score in the corner. 6 – 12. An attacking force, Joao is an even more effective tackler, chasing down and pounding his prey and giving his team mates great comfort all night.
We continued to dominate ball and territory with a calm intensity and consistency that filled the spectators’ hearts with delight. At one point, Cathal Mc caught a high ball at speed and never broke his stride charging into the oncoming Marys’ defenders. Visiting coach, Dr.Phil, summed it up, saying “That’s a run that screams, ‘I care!’”. Only when Marys made a brief incursion into our half did their strong kicking out half manage to pose any threat, clawing back another three points with a long range penalty. 9 – 12.
But before the half was over, we were treated to a definite contender for team try of the season. After another excellent line out just inside their half – U20s combination of thrower Tristan Boday and Devon Toner lookalike, Ryan Burgess worked a dream – the experienced back row of Rob Timlin, Ross Farrell and Liam McWhite worked their relentless magic again dragging the Marys defenders left and right, always moving forward, and inevitably creating breeches in the hosts’ defences. And the gap was exposed with surgical precision when centre Cathal Boyle took out his defender but held up his soft-handed offload for a critical few moments, allowing Conor Curley run a laser line through the last line of defence and go over for our third try just on half time. 9 – 19.
As one wag put it on the Whatsapp group … “if Carlsberg did first halves …”
So could we keep up this level of performance and how would Marys reply in the second half? The answer was that full service was resumed after the break. Another passage of controlled dominance brought play well into the Marys’ 22m and a series of scrums threatened to slow down the tempo of our attack. But word here for the pack, especially the front row of Cathal Mc, Tristan and the indefatigable (yes!) James Mulligan who certainly played his best game this correspondent ever witnessed. He out scrummaged and out lasted a much larger (yes!) opposite number and also made great ground with a number of line breaks, deploying his signature upright stance approaching rucks. He also showed canny game management skills. When apparently injured and laying down near the touchline, he was overheard to say to physio Stephanie, “No, I’m fine. I was just offside and didn’t want to get pinged!”
So from one of these scrums, replacement scrum half Aaron Grogan showed he doesn’t just give directions from the side of the pitch, as he took the ball from Timlin off the back of the scrum, drew two tacklers before offloading to a gratefully charging Rob Manning for another sweet try and bonus point. 9 – 24.
But Marys weren’t rolling over. As we entered the last 20 minutes, fatigue started to peek its head out from behind the curtain. Marys pack were even more tired than ours but their backs – both half backs in particular – had plenty of life in them yet. Our centres Sean O’Driscoll and Curley never stopped tackling, but a well placed kick by Mary’s 10 and we were back in our 22m. Now it was their turn to execute a good line out and three or four phases to get over for a try and the score was 16 – 24 with 15 mins to play.
Some on the sideline – and most on the Whatsapp group – started to worry at this stage, but no one on the pitch did. As assuredly as he had managed the game all night, Dan put us back in their 22 with the re-start, and the pack did the rest, keeping Marys’ attempted attacks at bay. In fact, Marys’ desperation was getting evident now as the penalty count swung in our favour in the second half, having been very much against us in the first. And it was when we had an advantage from one of those penalties that Dan took his chance, placing a perfectly weighted punt in the air for Conor Curley to gather in the gloomy distance of the corner flag. How he even saw Curley in the poor lighting is one thing, but the kick was inch perfect. And Curley had a bit of work to gather it too, stepping inside, before putting it down for his second try of the night. Not a bad come back to Templeville for Conor since his last trip there in September 2018 when he sustained that horrible leg break. 16 – 29.
Mary’s showed their fighting spirit to the very end also ensured it was a wonderfully entertaining contest when they got a consolation try bringing the final toll to 21 – 29.
But the night belonged to Lansdowne with one of the best and most enjoyable performances of the year. Team manager and caretaker coach in Tunney’s absence, Reg White said it was one of the best Lansdowne roars he’s ever heard in the dressing room afterwards. And he should know …
Match report – Brian Whelan