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Rugby podcaster Justin Middleton produced some great statistics before last Friday’s epic AIL Division top-of-the table encounter between hosts Lansdowne and their North side visitors, Clontarf, on the Aviva Stadium back pitch.

In the last 23 AIL games over the previous 12 seasons, the average score was Lansdowne 20 Clontarf 19, withLansdowne recording 13 wins against Clontarf’s 9, with 1 match drawn.

Nothing could encapsulate better the fierce but sporting rivalry which has built up over the past two decades between Dublin’s top two clubs, representing, as they do, the North and South sides of the city.

Before last Friday night, ‘Tarf had lost twice this season to Lansdowne; once in the reciprocal AIL encounter at Castle Avenue when the visitors came away with a well-merited 22-5 victory and the other in the Leinster Senior League Cup final which set the Headquarters club on the road to their record-breaking 7th Bateman Cup win.

Everything to play for then, as the two sides lined up with the aim of cementing a home semi-final and Dublin and with bragging rights at stake, of course, as the AIL points!

Clontarf started the better in what was a tense, tightly-fought and intensely competitive encounter. Their early attacks turned sour as early as the sixth minute, however, when speedy Lansdowne left winger, Sean Galvin, picked off an errant pass in his own ’22 and accelerated away for an intercept try, to the delight of the big home crowd.

Out half Peter Hastie converted well from half-way out and the D4 side were off to a perfect start, 7-0 to the good, having only touched the ball once.

Clontarf took up where they had been so rudely interrupted by Galvin and launched a series of attacks which were repulsed by a well-honed Lansdowne defence. The North siders pack were using their height and weight advantage to good effect and they set their stall out early – use their big ball carriers to pressurise the home set piece and then bludgeon their way up the pitch when in possession.

It may sound a bit crude, but it was very effective.

Lansdowne’s defence once again rose to the occasion, and the visitor’s efforts usually came up against the proverbial brick wall, with the exception of down the left, where winger Cian O’Donoghue posed a constant threat with ball in hand.

The Lansdowne back row were performing heroics in defence, with captain Jack O’Sullivan in the van, while a key turnover lineout won by Clive Ross helped stifle yet another Clontarf attack.

The home line-out, however, under pressure from Clontarf big men Mick Kearney, Cormac Daly and veteran No.8 Tony Ryan, misfired all too frequently on the night and, when the ball was won, it was generally under pressure and not always of the best of quality.

In truth, Clontarf huffed and puffed a bit in attack, with the exception of O’Donoghue and captain Matt D’Arcy in the centre. They lacked the pace and guile to unlock a solid and well-organised Lansdowne defence, with centres Corey Red and Paul Kiernan rock-solid in the middle.

Out half Kearns reduced arrears with a successful penalty in the 24th minute, but missed an effort from similar range shortly afterwards.

Lansdowne spurned a chance to go further ahead following an all too infrequent foray into the ‘Tarf half on 35 minutes, but good build-up work initiated by winger James Reynolds was spoiled by a forward pass.

Just when it seemed that Lansdowne would reach half time with an unlikely lead, the line out faltered again. This allowed ‘Tarf to set up a series of attacks from which the ball was spun wide to O’Donoghue, who crossed in the corner to nudge his side ahead in time-added on.

A point down at the break, the home side knew they would have to raise their game to mount a serious challenge. It seemed early in the second half their efforts had been rewarded when Reynolds broke through for what looked like a critical try, only to be hauled back by the referee for a forward pass. The disappointment of the home supporters was palpable.

Lansdowne line-out woes continued, and relief was only achieved by Clontarf indiscipline, which led to the concession of several relieving penalties for the increasingly beleaguered home defenders.

While “Clontarf’s route one” approach was limited in its effectiveness, it was inevitable that it would have the effect of wearing down even the most dogged defence. The breakthrough came in the 53rd minute, when a turned-over line out saw No. 8 Tony Ryan feed Matt D’Arcy, who cut back inside to cross under the posts.

With Kearns’ extras, the visitors were 15-7 to the good. Lansdowne weren’t going to lie down, however, and moments after the restart and following good work by replacement scrum half Cormac Foley, Captain Fantastic O’Sullivan made a surge up the pitch to be hauled down only 5 metres from the Clontarf line.

Clontarf winger Michael Brown was sin-binned in halting the move. From the resultant penalty tapped by No. 8 Mark Boyle, almost inevitably it was O’Sullivan who barged his way over for a well-deserved try.

Out half Hastie’s convert brought his side to within a point, 15-14, and it appeared we were set for a grand last 20 minutes as Lansdowne sought to snatch a vital, if unlikely, victory.

Alas, it wasn’t to be! Despite great work by full back Eamonn Mills in bring play well into the ‘Tarf ’22 and a great jackal in the tackle (inevitably) by O’Sullivan, the visitors continued to exert pressure on the creaking home scrum and line-out, in particular.

A D’Arcy burst up the middle set up a good attacking position for the Northsiders, and his pack then squeezed a penalty out of the tiring home forwards with 8 minutes remaining to nudge his side 18-14 ahead.

‘Tarf continued to dominate up front, and significantly the last 6 penalties of the game all went to the visitors.

This rounded off what was a very successful night for the League leaders with an injury-time try from former Lansdowne hooker Dylan Donnellan off a line-out maul, a score which also deprived the host club of a losing bonus point.

Next up in the League is a trip to Limerick on Saturday the 5th of March to take on the Cookies, who are still smarting from their recent Bateman Cup final defeat at Lansdowne’s hands. An interesting afternoon’s rugby is in prospect in the Yellow Brick Road – see you there!

Match Report: Michael Daly

Match Details: ENERGIA MEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE, ROUND 14: DIVISION 1A:

Venue: Aviva Stadium back pitch

Date: Fri. 25th February 2022

Time: k.o. 7.30pm

LANSDOWNE 14 CLONTARF 23: Aviva Stadium back pitch

Scorers: Lansdowne: Tries: Sean Galvin, Jack O’Sullivan; Cons: Peter Hastie 2
Clontarf: Tries: Cian O’Donoghue, Matt D’Arcy, Dylan Donnellan; Con: Conor Kearns; Pens: Conor Kearns 2
HT: Lansdowne 7 Clontarf 8

LANSDOWNE: Eamonn Mills; James Reynolds, Paul Kiernan, Corey Reid, Sean Galvin; Peter Hastie, James Kenny; Frank Kavanagh, Luke Thompson, Greg McGrath; Dan Murphy, Ruairi Clarke; Clive Ross, Jack O’Sullivan (capt), Mark Boyle.

Replacements: Paddy Nixon, Ben Popplewell, Joey Szpara, Cormac Foley, Sam Prendergast, Stephen Madigan.

CLONTARF: Tadhg Bird; Michael Brown, Michael Courtney, Matt D’Arcy (capt), Cian O’Donoghue; Conor Kearns, Angus Lloyd; Ivan Soroka, Dylan Donnellan, Ben Griffin; Cormac Daly, Mick Kearney; Alex Soroka, Adrian D’Arcy, Tony Ryan.

Replacements: Cathal O’Flynn, George Hadden, Paul Deeny, Andrew Feeney, Andrew Smith, Fionn Gilbert.

Referee: Andrew Cole

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