In honour of 100 years of rugby at UCD, Collidge took on the best players from universities around the country. Killian Woods reports on the event
Following their affiliation to the Leinster Branch in January 1910, UCD RFC has gone from strength to strength. They gained professional status in 1914 after their Leinster Junior Cup win, a landmark achievement in the clubs lifespan. Since that historic victory, the club has added Leinster Senior Cups, All-Ireland leagues and numerous Colours victories to their honours list.
UCD RFC’s move to honour the past 100 years took place on a cold and dry evening in the Belfield Bowl, with a fixture against a Combined Universities team. Drawing in players from numerous university sides from around the country, the evening’s hosts had their work cut out for them to defeat their opponents and begin the next 100 years in winning fashion.
The rugby played by both sides was ambitious and exciting to watch. UCD’s over-eagerness was evident from kick-off, as they sought to get in the faces of their opponents.
Early on, UCD fly-half James Thornton had no qualms to challenge the Combined Universities defence and a clever grubber kick penetrated their line. Thornton dived on the ball over the try line to give his team an early lead and easily converted under the posts.
Collidge’s start to the game was deceptive in many ways and their opponents quickly exposed UCD’s major weakness. A lack of patience and reckless diving into the breakdown by Richie Bent near his own 22 gifted his opponents’ fly-half David Joyce the chance to pull three points back for his side.
UCD restored their seven-point lead through a Thornton penalty on the left wing, however this was to be the last influence on the scoreboard by the Students until deep into the second half. Combined Universities began to boss the game and control most of the play.
Apart from their first error in the lineout, which led to the opening try of the match, the visitors were very organised and well drilled in their set pieces. Their ability to retain and turnover possession at the breakdown was also a key platform that allowed them to control the game for sustained periods.
Although they were gaining the upper hand in this fixture, UCD put their effective defence to use and managed to prevent the Combined Universities side from creating dangerous attacks. However, this stood to only prolong the inevitable as the visitors sought to extend their lead.
Still pressing, the Combined Universities side eventually broke through the UCD stronghold after continuous pick and drives deep in the home 22. Gareth Megaw muscled his way over the line and his unconverted try brought his side to within two points of the Students.
Collidge reacted badly to this breach of their defence and only a few minutes later, the Combined Universities hooker Megaw (from Queens Belfast) was crossing the line again. His second try resulted from his side’s ever-effective lineout that managed to maul its way over the UCD try line from close range.
David Joyce grabbed his team maximum points for their efforts and as the game crept towards half time, the Combined Universities had a five-point lead over UCD, as the scoreline stood at 10-15.
The second half saw the visitors continue their dominance straight from kick-off. Half-time substitute for the visitors, Andrew Burke, shot over the UCD try line with only two minutes of the second half played, to extend his side’s lead, in addition to converting the required kick.
As UCD sought an avenue back into the game, substitute Niall Earls missed a difficult penalty from near halfway. Their industrious play was gaining no reward. As they became more ambitious in their play, mistakes began to creep into their game.
A careless pass from Earls was intercepted by Paul Kayariannus and the replacement prop raced towards the line and could not be faltered from his path as he ran in under the posts to give the visitors a 17-point lead, which was extended to 19 after another successful conversion.
With any realistic chance of winning and the game slipping away from UCD, a thirst for pride overcame the players. For a prolonged period, the Students recycled the ball efficiently and created dangerous scoring opportunities.
Eventually, after countless attempts, Earls found centre David McSharry who burst through a hole in his opponents defence and under severe pressure, managed to pull a try back for UCD under the post. Following an easy conversion from Earls, the Students had reduced the deficit to twelve points.
The game ended with a flurry of tries from both sides. First, the Combined Universities extended their lead yet again with similar pick and drives in the UCD 22, as Brian O’Callaghan crossed the line on this occasion
Collidge responded quickly through Keelan McKenna, who broke a weak tackle to barge over the line. However, the final say went to the visitors, when full-back William Walsh scored under little pressure from UCD. The match finished with a disappointing 24-41 loss for the hosts.
The celebratory atmosphere was unaffected by the disappointing result and there was much reminiscing amongst the boisterous crowd in attendance. UCD have enjoyed a glorious 100 years of rugby and mirroring the success of the past century will take a high level of efficient management.