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Greystones 15 – 22 Lansdowne

Who knew scrummaging could be so much fun!

Let’s be honest, to those who wear (or wore) jerseys numbered 9 to 15, what happens in the scrum is a dark and largely irrelevant art. But when our scrum performs as imperiously as it did on Monday night in Greystones (and conscious that most forwards themselves won’t actually understand such a big word) it is truly a joy to behold. Full marks to newly-minted forwards/scrum coach Ross Barry for his part in transforming chaos into a potent attacking force and to all ten forwards that took to the pitch on Monday (not all at once, before you ask). It was a thing of beauty! Not forgetting the excellent performances of coach John Sparks’ backs, but this night belonged to the pack.

The game opened with Greystones taking full advantage of the wind and their intimate knowledge of the dimensions of the pitch to pin us down on our own line, over and over.  Relentless attack brought out a vigorous defence and eventually a penalty was conceded. The deficit of 3 – 0 after the ten minute onslaught could have been worse.

From the restart we ran the ball ambitiously from within our 22, mindful of the wind conditions, but also showing our intent to play attacking and exciting rugby. After several phases, short and wide, we were on their 10 metre line and Oran James slotted over a difficult kick when Greystones conceded a penalty. 3 -3.

But Greystones aren’t league leaders for nothing and soon they harnessed the wind and accurate field kicking again to resume their position on our line.  With their combination of robust pack and enterprising backs (particularly notable were their half backs and left winger) they launched wave after wave of attack at us.  We defended stoutly. Only for a mix up between two of our players (who asked not to be named) going to tackle the same player, but ending up grappling with each other, we might have resisted, and Greystones’ persistence was rewarded with a try and conversion. 10- 3.

The home side’s purple patch continued as they returned to our danger zone soon after and resumed the attack. They finished with a beautifully executed training ground move (which even their touch judge admitted “rarely works in real life!”) with a grubber kick that bounced up nicely for their winger for a try in the corner. 15 – 3 at the half time break.

But we visitors didn’t panic. Indeed, there was reason to be cautiously optimistic. Our set pieces were solid, with lineouts being more or less successful, but the scrums – oh, the scrums – were strong and getting stronger. And so was the wind, which was now at our backs.

Optimism translated to confidence when we resumed play and our first try came soon after the restart. Just as our hosts had done in the first half, we used the wind to take up semi-permanent residence in their 22, thanks to intelligent field kicking from half backs, Rob Kelly and Oran James.

From a lineout about 15 meters from their try line, one of the relative newcomers to the side, hooker Donal Spain threw a perfect ball to always busy and now airborne Luc Van Cauwelaert and then gathered it again in the maul that followed. And a textbook maul it was, as he marshalled his pack over the line for our first try.  Oran James’ golden boot struck again with an excellent conversion from the corner and the score was now 15 – 10 with only five minutes of the second half played.

Another newcomer was soon to put his name on the scoreboard, though he was noteworthy all night for his remarkable speed and toughness around the pitch. Number 8, Donal Liddy can be forgiven for his early-onset “Movember” moustache if he keeps putting in performances like this one and it was he that went over for our second try five minutes after the first.  Yet again, Oran struck the conversion beautifully from the touchline and we took the lead for the first time 15 – 17.

Never cocky, we were now playing with consummate assurance. The scrums – did we mention the scrums yet? –  now became a weapon of match destruction. Whether on their put-in or ours, the drive was such as to either deliver perfect forward moving ball to Rob Kelly at 9, or a scrum penalty in our favour. The effects of all this were now starting to show on the hosts. In spite of their repeated and valiant attempts to work their way back up the pitch into our defensive zone, the wind and some ferocious tackling -take a bow Cormac O’Mahony and Peter Fitzgerald – continually frustrated their efforts.

The cherry on the icing came with one of the best tries of the season so far. After a series of phases that piled on more punishment to the Greystones defence, iron-man Liddy took the ball off the back of a ruck inside the 22 and broke down the blindside, Rob Kelly hard on his heels. Liddy managed to draw not one but two defenders and still free his arms enough to lob a pass into the air outside him in the sure and certain hope that his scrum half would get to it in time. The ball hovered, as if defying gravity, waiting for Rob to take it. And so he did.  Kelly sprinted over the 10 metres to the line and scored the final nail in Greystones’ coffin that night.

What a try. What a game. And what stellar performances from every Lansdowne man that graced that pitch.

Match Report: Brian Whelan

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