Quality and composure in the out-half position was the difference between the two sides as UCD earned a rare home win, writes Meghan McSweeney
The Belfield Bowl witnessed a convincing home victory last Saturday afternoon as UCD took on Cork outside Highfield RFC in Division 2 of the AIB All-Ireland League. With the promotion of blindside flanker Rhys Ruddock and scrum half John Cooney to Allen Clarke’s Ireland under-20 side earlier in the week, the UCD team saw a slight reshuffle as Eoghan Conron, Robert Shanley and Ciaran Ruddock were all drafted into the starting fifteen.
UCD could not have asked for a better start to the game. Within eight minutes of kick off, out-half Niall Earls had kicked two penalties as Collidge dominated possession, preventing the visitors from crossing the halfway line for most of the first forty minutes.
The hosts’ back line was particularly impressive, as full back Michael Twomey and winger Cailbhe Doherty demonstrated a perfect partnership to keep play hovering around the opposition 22. After twelve minutes, Niall Earls affirmed his sensational form from the boot, slotted over a third penalty – this time from the left side – to stretch UCD’s lead by nine points.
While Highfield applied pressure in the scrums and had intermittent periods of attack, UCD’s defensive play kept the visitors from registering a score until a penalty converted by Dave O’Brien in the fifteenth minute brought the score to 9-3.
The scoreline remained unchanged for a while thereafter; ten minutes before half time Earls made the correct decision to drop a UCD penalty to touch within five metres of Highfield’s line. Highfield intercepted the line out, however, frustrating the stronger home side and keeping the score at 9-3.
Two minutes later, UCD found their break. The Bowl erupted as wonderful play from Michael Twomey, who ran from his own half and offloaded to Kevin Croke, whose deft disposal allowed Andy Cummiskey dive over and open up a significant lead. Earls’ conversion gave UCD a healthy cushion at 16-3.
The vibrant out-half retained his perfect record just before half time, dismissing his fourth penalty of the game to leave the half time score at 19-3 in favour of the students.
The second half, though, proved the old maxim that a game is always composed of two halves. UCD started with more errors, offering the visitors some confidence as they focused play around the halfway line.
The game continued to fall the visitors’ way in the 50th minute, as Collidge’s Mark Flanagan was forced to leave the field due to a serious arm injury. The visitors registered their first points of the second half thereafter through a penalty, and momentum remained with Highfield when outside centre Peter Martin cross the line for a try five minutes later. Unfortunately for them, out-half Dave O’Brien failed to score the conversion. The scoreline remained 19-11.
The rejuvenated Cork side retained the initiative, but UCD gained a foothold in the game once more through Niall Earls with another successful penalty. His composure extended UCD’s lead to a scoreline of 22-11 and kept the scoreboard ticking over for the home side through their poorer spell in the game. Just as in the previous home game against Lansdowne, Earls displayed his superb reading of the game and his natural talent, kicking a difficult drop goal just three minutes later putting daylight between the sides once more.
Highfield refused to give up the fight, though, and continued to make life difficult for UCD who spent the last five minutes defending with ferocious energy and determination. Despite Highfield’s dominance at scrums and mauls, the UCD forwards produced a phenomenal work rate to protect their line as Collidge hung on for a rare home win.