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Lansdowne FC v Old Wesley RFC

Metro League Division 3

Saturday 9th March 2024

Lansdowne Road

Lansdowne 33 – 25 Old Wesley

 

There was a festive atmosphere at HQ on Saturday morning as Will McEvoy’s J2 squad gathered for their second encounter of the season with old nemesis, Old Wesley.

The atmosphere was enhanced by the presence of several J3’s fresh (well, sort of fresh) from their victory the night before against Stillorgan, cementing their own position at the top of their league and their slot in the league final.  So joyous were some of them in fact, that they had to take their celebrations to the Merry Cobbler as the club bar wasn’t open yet … at 1230!  “Junior rugby at its best,” glowed coach Mark “Face” Quinn!

The J2s had every reason to be confident.  As well as standing alone at the top of their table after 13 wins and 1 loss and a points difference of 13 (with a 4-try bonus point in each win), the J2 teamsheet read like a parade of junior legends. Marshalling the parade was captain (for the day, as Will was minding himself- wise at his age) Aaron “it wasn’t me, ref” Daly joined in the second row by Conor “Choran” Horan. Together they resemble the two Poolbeg chimney stacks (“Those glorious monstrosities”, Joyce) as they awaited the kickoff.  Backing them up were fellow veterans Alex “not quite as sexy as Lexy” McEvoy and Oran “nickname pending” James. Between these four, their collective age exceeds the total of the rest of the squad!

The opening quarter of the game did its best to sap the fun out of the occasion, as the two sides butted heads grimly, rarely straying more than 10 meters either side of the halfway line. Turgid stuff for the spectator, but the ref was kept busy pinging us for ten offences to their two. Commenting on the penalty count, someone on the sideline observed, “And Daly only accounted for one of those penalties – do you think he’s OK?”

Apart from one excellent exit from our own line, with James “Cheese” Power (more about him later) linking up with Boyle the Younger (Rory) well to get us from our own line to inside their 22, the only thing to report was the sad exit from the pitch of out half and playmaker Oran James.  Hopefully his knee will recover in time for the final.

The flood of penalties was stemmed when coach, Ed O’Keefe shouted “next forward penalized comes off”. Sure enough, on the next penalty, Jack Coolican was called to the line after an infringement, and miraculously, we stopped giving away penalties almost immediately!  The prospect of being substituted for penalties and Wesley scoring their first try on 30 minutes seemed to galvanize the home side and the last ten minutes of the half was the beginning of a quality exhibition that lasted the rest of the game.

First, our scrum tightened up and we won an important penalty inside our own 22. From the ensuing touchline inside their half, we set up patient phase play with our fluid back row (including a now reformed and powerful running Jack Coolican) interchanging smoothly with the resurgent backs. Eventually a gap appeared inside their 22 and full back Finn O’Loughlin, playing at 10 for Oran, ghosted through it. With Cheesy Power on one side and centre Adam “Last Dance” Daly on the other, defenders hesitated just enough to leave Finn a clear path over the line for his (spoiler alert) first try.  Another flexible player in an unaccustomed role, Rory Boyle converted to bring us level as the clock went into the red for the first half.  7 – 7.

But there was one more scene to play out before we all headed to the Merry Cobbler for half time.  From the kick out, in what can best be described as a brain fart, someone nameless went offside in the ruck and gave the visitors a penalty kick to go into the break 7 – 10. HT

The restart of the second half was a mirror image of how the first had ended. First, we gave away another kickable penalty to let Wez stretch their lead to six, 7 -13, but soon after we assembled an excellent try after a period of dominant play.  Plenty of tight phases run close to the ruck before acting outhalf Finn does a loop with centre Jack Loscher, regathering it and then launching an excellent pass to that man Cheesy Power again, this time lurking on the wing. (As another wag on the sideline suggested, “Cheese has more positions than the Kama Sutra!”). James went over the line and put a cherry on the icing by running in field 20 meters to help out the kicker. Unfortunately, in an homage to Italian kicker Garbisi, Boyler and his teeman for the day, scrum half Afonso Mendonca somehow let the ball fall over, so the extra meters went unused. 12 – 13.

Though still marginally behind, now Lansdowne were in control of the game.  We commanded possession and territory and to cap it all, Wesley were falling foul of the ref and racking up their own record-breaking penalty count. With one such penalty advantage, coming after a signature rampaging break from Choran who offloaded to Loscher, Finn chipped the ball perfectly over their defensive line and had the ball not bounced on the bar, winger Andrew Russell would have been over for the try of the match.

But we wouldn’t have to wait for long. Our superior territory and possession showed and that excellent Old Wesley defence couldn’t hold Jack Loscher back when he finished off a multi-phased attack under their posts.  19 – 13 following a delightfully incident-free conversion from Boyler.

We seemed to be reaching a different level as the game entered the final quarter. Fitness and accuracy were unrecognizable from the first 20 minutes and though the visitors appeared to be wilting under the barrage, they did have a trick or two up their sleeves.  One such shock came against the run of play. We were gliding gracefully through the gears, tying up their loose forwards and to all appearances, building up to another line break when a ball went to ground and, as if woken from a slumber, a Wesley back sprung on it and ran the length of the pitch for an opportunistic try in the corner.  19- 18 with 15 minutes left on the clock.

Happily, we weren’t long reestablishing the upper hand.  Back in their 22 and starting to pound on their door again, our advantage was increased when the ref finally lost patience with the Wesley lawlessness and binned one of their forwards. With delicious inevitability, our forwards turned the screw and setting up a maul from a lineout, they marched it imperiously from the 22 over the line with hooker and mischief maker extraordinaire, Keenan Barret touching it down.  26 – 18 as injury time approached.

A casual observer might have seen this as the final nail in the visitors’ coffin, but they had different ideas. They withstood yet another extended period of our attack, their well marshalled defence never losing its shape, and they also exited their own danger zone. Inside our half, it was our defence’s time to shine and, full credit to Wesley, they tried everything they could to break our lines, but couldn’t. So, if you can’t go through it, you have to go around it, and their outhalf popped a perfectly placed punt to his winger who went over in the corner un touched. 26 – 25 two minutes into injury time.

If the first half was turgid, the second was terrific!  Marginally ahead as the final play approached, but eager to entertain right to the very end, Lansdowne returned to the Wesley 22 and constructed another near perfect try to leave punters gasping in appreciation.  Pinning Wesley back to their line, they force a lineout from a clearance kick. The lineout maul that follows moves the play close to the 10 meter line, but Wesley defence is still tight … tight like a tiger.  Phase after phase, we patiently probe and push, with bravery in contact matched by finger-tip handling. How long can they hold out? Or will we drop the ball? In the end it was Wesley that blinked first. In a rerun of his opening try, graceful and athletic Finn O’Loughlin saw the gap and drove over the line for a hard-earned try. Boyler topped off his excellent day too with the extras and Lansdowne went in still well-deserved leaders and, dare we say it (?) favourites for the league cup.

33 – 25 FT.

Match Report – Brian Whelan

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