Match Report: Leinster U15’s School/Youth League Division 1 – North Meath/Athboy v Lansdowne
Score: North Meath/Athboy 12 : Lansdowne 33
Venue: Athboy RFC
LFC Squad: 15 plus 1 substitute.
Sunday morning saw our U15’s hitting the road for a League topping decider against the hitherto unbeaten North Meath/Athboy team. Tough opposition indeed.
Both teams had a game in hand over their other League rivals and with North Meath/Athboy sitting in 1st place, ahead by 3 points in the League, this game was the “one” as the winner gets to play the 4th placed team, at home, from the other League Conference for a place in the Leinster League Semi-Finals. Lansdowne, in 2nd place, had to win to top the table, North Meath/Athboy only had to draw.
KO was booked for 10:30.
The hardier among us may have described the temperature as “brisk”, for me, the temperature was hovering somewhere between Baltic and Arctic. The clouds were grey and threatening (Think Lord of The Rings) while the wind chill factor was making a nuisance of itself during the so-called warm-up by disconnecting the ability of fingers to receive instructions from the boy’s brains… An interesting contest awaited.
The referee blew the whistle for kick off and it was just then that the gods of rugby decided that it was as good a time as ever to send in some light rain, just to mix it up a little. 🙄 It looked like the winners on the day may well be decided by the team that adapted their game to work with the conditions as opposed to trying to impose their game on the conditions.
The physicality was evident from the off, the home team looking to try to dominate and pressure, while the Lansdowne boys absorbed the early pressure, kept a superb defensive line and took down the opposition strike runners one by one with ferocious tackles while constantly realigning to counter the threat of the large North Meath/Athboy forwards. Coaches Ntinga Mpiko and Mick O’Gara would have been proud to hear the loud and clear communication from the Lansdowne boys to each other and the constant encouragement between the boys for each little win ground out, player by player on what was a sticky and unforgiving pitch.
That was how the first 10 minutes of the game was played. Both teams going back and forth over the same ground, both trying to find a weakness in the others defensive line, both looking for that little window of opportunity. It was then that North Meath/Athboy found that precious window when one of their larger units broke through the Lansdowne defence. He was home clear, or so he and his team’s supporters thought, there was only the little matter of getting past the Lansdowne #15, the recently returned from injury, Francis Manzocchi. For those that know Francis they know that this is what he relishes, one on one try saving tackles. True to form, despite the considerable size and weight differential, Francis cooly lined up his prey and took him out with a textbook low tackle, so saving a try and giving any North Meath/Athboy player something to think about if they ever found themselves in that position again.
Then the light rain, turned to heavy rain and seconds later the heavy rain turned to hail. Heavy hail. Really, really heavy hail. The kinda hail that hurts and that forces you to turn away to protect yourself from the countless needles that are being driven into your face, your eyeballs and your hands. Enough was enough, the referee blew the whistle and off both teams went to the changing rooms. No encouragement was needed to get indoors. What was funny was watching 16 Lansdowne lads trying to squeeze through the door of a PortaCabin all at the same time. The referee told the team that he was going to give it 10 minutes and make a call as to whether or not to continue or to scrub the game.
It should be noted at this point that the usual Lansdowne #10 was unavailable for the game and so it fell to Breifne McCann, usually on the wing, to step up and don the #10 shirt for the day. A huge ask considering Breifne had never run the plays at #10 before, however, it was what it was and up he stepped.
Five minutes after the unruly retreat to the PortaCabin the hail stopped and the sun made an appearance, the game was back on.
It seemed that the Lansdowne boys had kept their shape better over the enforced time out and came out all guns firing. Breifne, playing a heads up game at #10 repeatedly varied the Lansdowne attack between passing, grubber kicks and a few neat over the defence head kicks to space which kept the opposition guessing and more importantly, it kept turning them and forcing a lack of continuity and rhythm on them. It meant that it unleashed the Lansdowne speedsters to chase. The pressure applied by Lansdowne eventually resulted in a superb team effort to march up field and put Nick Power-Smith over for the first try of the game. The conversion was missed, but the score now stood at 0 – 5 to Lansdowne. Half time was in sight but to get there and maintain the advantage into the 2nd half a quality team performance was required as North Meath/Athboy were looking to level things, urgently. It would be unfair to single out individuals from this period as all the boys were immense, fearless and committed.
The 2nd half saw North Meath/Athboy score early to level it at 5 – 5, again, the wind made it very difficult for the placekickers. Three minutes later, again from a great team effort, the Lansdowne #9, Jack Nolan went over. The try was converted and the score stood at 5 – 12 to Lansdowne. Four minutes passed and North Meath/Athboy levelled it with a penalty try. 12 – 12. All to play for.
It was at about this time that you could see that although the score was level, the tempo and the confidence showing in the body language of the Lansdowne players was high, whereas the North Meath/Athboy players had fought hard, played hard, challenged wherever possible and had possibly emptied more of the tank in their efforts to breach the Lansdowne defence and get the scoreboard to level. It may come down to weather and pitch conditions management and fitness. Who wanted it more on the day?
Some fine carries from David Donohue, James Cassidy, Richard Tobin, Leo Troy and Luke McCarroll put Lansdowne within striking distance of the North Meath/Athboy try line. From out of the muddy chaos appeared Nick Power-Smith to get his 2nd try of the game. A brace. Converted by Luke McCarroll, it was now 12 – 19 to Lansdowne.
North Meath/Athboy were looking for a way back, the clock was ticking and the pressure was on Lansdowne again with wave after wave of attack breaking on the defensive line, but this time, the Lansdowne defenders were confidently hunting in pairs, taking out attacker after attacker and killing off any go forward momentum by the opposition. Brave tackling from Lansdowne’s Mark Henry and Scott Galvin, to name just two, resulted in North Meath/Athboy being pinged for an infringement on the halfway mark. Ever alert to an opportunity for a quick tap and go, Jack Nolan saw that North Meath/Athboy were not alert to the impending danger he posed with the ball in hand. A quick tap and he was gone. He sliced through a number of defenders before they knew what was happening and with a clever step, he wrong-footed the full back and dotted down for a wonderfully opportunistic 2nd try. Another brace for Lansdowne. Conversion. 12 – 26 to Lansdowne.
It was at around this time Lansdowne lost their unflappable Leo Troy to a heavy knock. Usually the #8, but today playing at #12. He was immense.
The Lansdowne pressure became relentless. It didn’t matter that the clock was ticking down, the boys wanted more. Some great go forward ball came from the front row of Loose Head, Scott Galvin and Tight Head, Oisin Bohan, who back in Lansdowne colours, had a strong day ball in hand. Rian Fagan, Hooker, who got steamrolled by the opposition for his efforts was dug out from a number of rucks. The defence of North Meath/Athboy became desperate as Lansdowne tucked the ball in close and bored, mole-like, their way up the field, playing the conditions, keeping mid to long passes to a bare minimum, most unfortunate for Daniel Gorman and Seamus Murphy-Cruse who had both turned a light shade of blue standing on the wings screaming for the ball. Don’t worry lads, you will have your day, it just wasn’t a day for wingers. Infringement / Advantage was played again and again to Lansdowne’s benefit as they dug deep for each other. Adam Tobin, wearing the #7 shirt proved to be a constant nuisance and thorn in the side of the opposition defenders as he went again and again into contact gaining precious yards and increasing the opposition frustrations. Lansdowne’s Daniel Gorman on the wing took the ball with a narrow chink of daylight to play with was swallowed up but managed to recycle the ball although he took a nasty bang as a reward for his bravery. The Lansdowne pressure, ball retention and quality rucking bore fruit and it seemed that Nick Power-Smith was going to get over for his hat trick, unfortunately, there was a high tackle on Nick and the referee awarded Lansdowne a penalty try. The scoreline finished 12 – 33 to Lansdowne.
Lansdowne top their conference in the Division 1 League and will now play the 4th place finisher in the other conference of Division 1 in a home quarter-final.