U20s outclassed in decider

 
 

UCD 11, Lansdowne 19:

Fearghal Kerin was at the Belfield Bowl as Lansdowne took the honours in what was a tightly contested decider between Leinster’s premier Under 20 sides.

A VICTORY BUILT on hard work and strong tackling saw Lansdowne weather an early storm before putting the UCD side to the sword in the second half to win their second successive JP Fanagan Premier title, and will fancy themselves to avenge their 5-0 defeat against UL Bohemians in last year’s All Ireland Final this time around.

rugbyFrom the beginning of this season, it was clear that UCD and Lansdowne would prove the teams to beat in this year’s competition for the provinces premier Under 20 sides. This was clearly an apt prediction with the two sides facing off in the final tie of the Super Six section of the tournament, with UCD one point in arrears going into the final game, but fully aware that a home victory would hand them the trophy.

Although this was in fact a league game, in essence it was a winner-takes-all final between the competitions premier sides.

Earlier this season, a single pointed 13-12 victory for Lansdowne over their fellow Dublin 4 side had given them the impetus going forward, but they then contrived to lose to Blackrock College at Stradbrook in what proved to be their only defeat of the season. Though the rugby played was of an extraordinarily high standard throughout the competition, one complaint supporters can have is how both sides were shorn of their Ireland Under 20 stars for much of the season, particularly for such a big game.

Instead of representing their clubs in the biggest game of the season to date, UCD and Lansdowne players made up eight of the Irish squad that took on Scotland in the Under 20 Six Nations less than 48 hours previously.

While it is the case that it has been many years since Brian O’Driscoll last played for UCD at any level, and Gordon Darcy’s start for Lansdowne before the Six Nations was a collector’s item, it shouldn’t be the case at this level. It doesn’t make sense that UCD should go to the trouble of convincing someone like Mark Flanagan to sign for them and then for them to be unavailable for selection for the biggest provincial game of the season.

Regardless of their missing stars, it was the home side who started the game much stronger, controlling the opening exchanges, with former Tullamore youth Daire O’Beirne particularly to the fore as the Belfield side earned two early penalties which Noel Reid, almost two years to the day after his Schools Cup glory with Saint Michael’s, converted to give College the best possible start.

“It was the home side who started the game much stronger, controlling the opening exchanges, with Dáire O’Beirne particularly to the fore as the Belfield side earned two early penalties which Noel Reid converted”

However, as the minutes ticked by they failed several times to gain what would have been a crucial score and allowed Lansdowne to escape relatively unscathed from a period of pressure that could have seen the game effectively over in the opening 20 minutes, but rather than an unassailable 13-0 with UCD with all the momentum, it was Lansdowne who had their tails up after repelling the best UCD could throw at them.

Perhaps the best opportunity early on came after a Dáire O’Beirne block of an attempted clearance seemingly gave UCD an opportunity to touch down, but a despairing form Lansdowne fullback Lorcan Smith halted the UCD attacker who had seized on the breaking ball ten metres out with nobody left to beat.

With the fillip of having absorbed such early opening pressure, Lansdowne’s back row began to get a foothold and make life difficult at the breakdown for the UCD forwards. The following 20 minutes of the first half were almost an exact replica of the first, except the visitors were doing the pressing.

Such control and efficiency from so young a side is rarely seen, but though it was the second half in which Lansdowne pulled away, it was how they soaked up UCD’s attack, and then gathered two opportunities and converted them to scores perhaps best sums up the strength of Lansdowne.

Former Ireland Youth’s number eight, Brian McKeever, in particular, was instrumental in their revival, and had a hand in winning both the penalties, with Craig Ronaldson dispatching both to leave the game evenly poised at half time, but with the visitors having much of the momentum, as well as a meagre wind advantage in the second half.

The period after half time proved crucial, and the game swung on a series of place kicks, all of which benefited Lansdowne and left UCD reeling. Two missed penalties early in the second half by Reid were penalised by two wonderfully struck, long range belters from Ronaldson that left Lansdowne at 12-6 midway through the second half, but with only a converted try separating the two teams.

It was at that point that the defining moment of the game gave Lansdowne the breathing space they craved and meant it was all but impossible for UCD to rescue their JP Fanagan ambitions. A scrum in the centre of the field saw McKeever picking from the base of the ruck before offloading to his blindside Paddy Mallon who played in Gavin Nyawata who broke the first up tackle and had a clear run in to score under the posts.

UCD’s response was to bring in a plethora of subs at this point to try and change the dynamic of the game, but at 19-6 there was too much to do. Clever kicking by the Lansdowne half backs kept UCD on the backfoot for the remainder of the game, though UCD managed to negotiate sufficient space for winger Tom Fletcher to score a late, late compensation which gave a kinder, albeit fairer reflection to the scoreboard.

On the day, it was the performance of Ronaldson that proved the difference between the sides, and on another day, UCD might be more careful about their concession of penalties anywhere within their own half, though when playing against a back row like that of Lansdowne’s, this is perhaps easier said than done. The absence of Shane Grannell at number eight was felt as Lansdowne got the better of the back row exchanges.

Though the defeat will be hard to stomach for UCD after their grand ambitions for the season, they still advance to the All Ireland series where they will feel they have the ability to match most, if not all, of their rivals from outside Leinster from the All Ireland League. Noel Reid impressed, though it was when he moved to outside centre that he was able to get more opportunity to run at the visitors.

UCD: Ciaran Moloney, Risteard Byrne, Liam Hyland, Michael Cawley, Keelan McKenna, Wesley Carter, Dáire O’Beirne, Richie Bent, John Cooney, Niall Earls, Tom Fletcher, Dave McSharry, Eoghan Conran, Cailbhe Doherty, Noel Reid.
Subs: Gareth Crotty, Andrew Pollard, Eoin Daly, Conal Creman, Chris Lilly, James Murray, Terry Jones (all used)

Man of the Match: Craig Ronaldson (Lansdowne)

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