The turning of the year saw the turning of the fixtures in the Energia Ireland-sponsored AIL as we entered in to the second phase of the League in Round 10 last Saturday in Lansdowne Road.
The visitors to the Aviva back pitch were newly-crowned Ulster Champions, Ballynahinch, who Lansdowne had narrowly seen off with two late tries in the reverse away fixture, which was our last pre-Christmas match in the League on December 11th 2021.
Played in near perfect conditions, crispy cold but no wind, both sides combined to serve up a wonderfully entertaining exhibition of club rugby at its finest, even if the end-result was somewhat one-sided.
Although largely out-gunned, in particular up front, the Visitors contributed courageously to the contest and went down with their colours still flying.
Lansdowne, if guilty of taking their foot off the gas in the second half (always hard to keep focus when the bonus point is safely wrapped up well before half-time), played with both pace and power as forwards and backs combined to serve up an exhibition of classic rugby football.
The small, Covid-affected attendance didn’t have long to wait for the home side to open the scoring. A great driving maul on the ‘Hinch ’22 saw the ball spun wide. Right wing Peter Sullivan kicked-through and a scrambling defence conceded a five metre scrum which temporarily halted progress.
Two scrum penalties later – hats off the Messrs. Peter Dooley, Luke Thompson and Greg McGrath in the scrumming department – with the Visitors (and spectators) expecting another scrum, influential No. 8 Mark Boyle tapped the penalty and tight head McGrath surged over the line “festooned with Ulstermen” in the 9thminute.
Centre Charlie Tector missed the convert, which was to be his only failure of the afternoon, as the Irish Under 20 out half proceeded to nail on the conversions of his side’s next 6 tries.
Ballynahinch’s out half, Greg Hutley, a neat footballer, reduced the margin with a penalty goal from 38 metres on a rare foray by his side into the Lansdowne half.
The Headquarters side failed to capitalise on a good attacking position from a penalty lineout following a high tackle in the 14th minute, the referee pinging them for sealing off as the maul close to the ‘Hinch line went to ground.
The home support didn’t have much longer to wait for a second try, however; from a solid scrum just outside the Visitors ’22 the ball was spun wide and a neat wrap-around saw Sullivan set free and the finish in the corner was a formality for the powerful Connacht speedster.
Tector kicked an excellent convert from the touchline and Lansdowne were 12-3 ahead after 22 minute’s play. Moments later it was 19-3 after a brilliant break up the middle by Boyle from inside his own 10-meter line saw him pass to supporting second row Joey Szpara, who pinned his ears back and just made it to the line for his team’s third try. Tector again goaled from well out on the right.
Following the restart, Lansdowne were penalised in an advancing scrum for not scrummaging squarely. I await a referee’s explanation as to why a dominant scrum would need to infringe when the opposition are going backwards.
From the resultant penalty, Ballynahinch launched an attack into the Lansdowne ’22. Good pressure defence from the home side saw a wayward pass picked off by ex-UCD centre Andy Marks, who showed a clean pair of heels to accelerate away for his team’s bonus point try on 27 minutes, again converted by Tector.
On the resumption, Lansdowne resumed where they had left off. Marks again was the instigator with a great break up the middle seeing him pass to Galvin who offloaded to supporting No. 9 Matthews who registered his side’s fourth try of the afternoon close to the sticks. 33-3 in the 34th minute.
Ballynahinch declined a relatively easy penalty chance to take a line out option just before the break. Solid Lansdowne defence – one of the hallmarks of this hard-working side – saw the narrow-side line-out attack frustrated and the ball carrier bundled into touch.
Lansdowne went on the attack again, and their sixth try followed on 32 minutes; the excellent Marks – Man of the Match – created space for the speedy Sean Galvin to cross to the right of the posts for Tector to again oblige. 40 points to 3 in the 43 minute and the home side were well home and hosed.
Lansdowne were guilty of easing up, and some defensive work below their normally very high standards saw ‘Hinch replacement Rory Butler cross for a try, converted by Hutley.
Lansdowne’s ability to pressurise teams into errors through solid defensive pressure again paid dividends in the form of an intercept try by Galvin, his second score of the match, as the winger ran from his own ’22 metre line to cross close to the posts. 47-10 following Tector doing the needful in the 52nd minute.
Surprisingly, this was to be Lansdowne’s final score of the afternoon. They were disrupted by yellow cards issued to Clive Ross – harshly adjudged to have tackled high when wrapping an opponent around the chest – and captain Jack O’Sullivan for dragging down a maul when it appeared to have toppled over of its own volution.
This latter incident resulted in a penalty try awarded to the never-say die Ulstermen, who didn’t stopped trying and fought tenaciously to the end.
The ref was at least consistent in carding the ‘Hinch replacement hooker, Josh Hanlon, for a high tackle moments after sending Ross to the bin, but unfortunately the cardings had a disruptive impact on the Lansdowne play. Winger Peter Sullivan too, became the subject of the referee’s ire and he joined the now swelling numbers on the naughty step.
Both sides spurned good try-scoring chances late on, Lansdowne for again sealing off in a penalty line out close in. Ballynahinch were similarly penalised following a good attack arising from a cross kick to left winger Aaron Cairns which saw the Visitors stopped just short of the line by a stretched home defence.
The game ended with Ballynahinch still playing with their tails up and Lansdowne content to absorb pressure from the Visitor’s enterprising attacks. Overall, a highly entertaining match played in the best spirit of Irish club rugby.
Match report: Michael Daly
Match Details: ENERGIA MEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE, ROUND 10: DIVISION 1A:
Scorers: Lansdowne: Tries: Greg McGrath, Peter Sullivan, Joey Szpara, Andy Marks, Sean Galvin 2, Jack Matthews; Cons: Charlie Tector 6
Ballynahinch: Tries: Rory Butler, Penalty try; Cons: Greg Hutley, Pen try con; Pen: Greg Hutley
HT: Lansdowne 33 Ballynahinch 3
LANSDOWNE: Michael Silvester; Sean Galvin, Andy Marks, Charlie Tector, Peter Sullivan; Peter Hastie, Jack Matthews; Peter Dooley, Luke Thompson, Greg McGrath, Joey Szpara, Jack Dwan, Clive Ross, Jack O’Sullivan (capt), Mark Boyle.
Replacements: Jamie Kavanagh, Temi Lasisi, Daniel Murphy, James Kenny, Corey Reid, Daniel McEvoy.
BALLYNAHINCH: Paddy Wright; George Pringle, Tagen Strydom, Ryan Wilson, Aaron Cairns; Greg Hutley, Conor McAuley; Nacho Cladera Crespo, Zack McCall (capt), Kyle McCall, Tom Martin, John Donnan, Thomas Donnan, Oli Loughead, Callum Irvine.
Replacements: Josh Hanlon, John Dickson, Diego Vidal Souza, Rory Butler, Chris Gibson, Yasser Omar.
Referee: Ciaran Barry