Top of the table clash adds spice to rivalry

 
 

With the first Colours game to ever be played at the Belfield Bowl on Friday, Kevin Beirne talks to Director of Rugby, Bobby Byrne, about the game and UCD RFC’s season so far

It is one of the most well-known rivalries in Ireland. Upon entering either UCD or Trinity, you suddenly become aware of the fierce competition that exists between the country’s two top universities. The battle is fought in everything from sport to who has the better end of year ball.

The Colours games are a long-standing tradition that celebrates this rivalry. For any UCD sports team, games against Trinity have that extra spice compared to all the others. It really feels like a local derby.

Bobby Byrne, UCD’s Director of Rugby, is all too aware of the special standing that Friday’s game against Dublin University (Trinity) RFC has, and not just in terms of the implications it has for the league.

“It’s a special occasion. It’s one of those games that the lads look out for in the fixtures list at the start of the season… It’s a unique game from the perspective that it’s probably the one occasion in the year where the guys really feel they’re representing their university,” says Byrne.

For many of the players, the Colours match means facing off against some former teammates from their school days or even just playing against some of their friends. The lure of bragging rights will no doubt lead to an emotional day, especially considering the fact that UCD lost the first Colours match this season.

Back in November, Collidge fell to their heaviest defeat of the season so far in a 36-14 thumping in College Park. UCD will go into the game looking to reclaim their pride, with the added bonus of leapfrogging their opponents into second place in the table, should they win.

Collidge’s recent form has been good. Since losing away to the Buccaneers to start the new year, UCD have recorded three wins on the bounce, including a 19-7 dismissal of league-leaders Ballynahinch away from home last Saturday, which was the home side’s first of the season.

Trinity, on the other hand, go into this game having beaten up on two of the league’s bottom two in their last two games. In their two games in January, however, they recorded two four-point losses.  They are currently three points ahead of UCD and lie four points behind first place Ballynahinch. A win on Friday would put them in a very strong position.

Not that current form matters, not according to Byrne anyway, who said: “I think form goes out the window [in a Colours game]. It doesn’t really matter how the sides have been getting on during the season; it’s a one off. Two years ago, we were unbeaten in the league all year, and then we played Trinity in the last match and they beat us. They just turned us over… The great thing about it is that both universities are playing good rugby and are up the top end of the league.”

Whether or not UCD come out on top in this particular game, Byrne is very confident about the future of this young team. Having achieved promotion to Division 1B in the Ulster Bank League only two years ago, it is quite the feat for Collidge to be challenging for the title this year.

Byrne believes that this season’s strong showing is the beginning of a very promising few years for UCD rugby, saying that “We have a very young side at the moment. We had a very strong under-21 group last year, and in this year’s squad of the thirty-odd players that played, about seventeen of them were involved in last year’s under-21 group.”

Considering the age profile of the team, it is quite impressive what they have achieved so far. With eleven games gone in the season, they have managed five try-scoring bonus points, which leads the league. From their four losses, they have also picked up two losing bonus points.

In the season to date, UCD have scored the second most points and conceded the third fewest. They have all but confirmed their survival in the league with seven games to spare and will be looking to build on a solid foundation for the coming years.

“As a club, at the moment, we’re building a side for the next couple of years. Our 21s last year, they won all the competitions that they entered,” explains Byrne, “This year’s under-21s are doing extremely well. We’re hoping, if we can hold on to all our players, that in the next two or three years, we’ll be really challenging.”

The biggest problem facing UCD RFC at the moment is their ability to hold on to key players. Improved facilities make UCD probably the most attractive option for any young Irish athlete hoping to pursue an athletic career, but there is always the chance that the best players may leave for professional contracts once they have completed their studies.

With such a high proportion of the Leinster academy recruits currently playing in UCD, it is no wonder that the team is on an upward trajectory. This, however, creates its own problems, as the best of these players could potentially leave the club in order to focus and a full-time Leinster career.

For the moment, though, Collidge know who and what is available to them. As they prepare for Friday’s Colours match against Trinity, they will be confident of their ability to avenge November’s defeat. It’s sure to be a tense affair, let’s just hope it lives up to the hype.

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