Last Saturday’s Ulster Bank Division 1B action saw second place UCD RFC taking on fifth place Belfast Harlequins at the Belfield Bowl. UCD came into the game boasting the second best offensive and defensive records of the teams in the league, while Belfast were coming off a 12-7 loss to Dublin University. The visitors were looking to avenge their 41-20 defeat back in October.
UCD emerged as the more confident side in the first half, stuffing the advances of the Ulstermen, and capitalising on mistakes early and frequently. Belfast looked to be the more aggressive of the two, but it was UCD who were able to pick Belfast apart within the opening ten minutes, with Jamie Glynn, James Thornton and Barry Daly providing a confident platform for the backs.
A Stephen Murphy interception, following a successful Belfast scrum, gave him room to scramble from the midfield and go over for a soft try under the posts, followed by a quick conversion. Harlequins were not afraid to mix up their attack early, as Mark Best kicked frequently and combined well with his wingers. It was a recurring sight of the game to see Belfast camped on Collidge’s try-line.
Despite the pressure, Collidge were able to mount an attack of their own, thanks largely to the solid defence provided by the surrounding backs. A line-out that was coolly controlled by David Doyle led to a dangerously fluid passing exchange by Thornton and Murphy, with Murphy putting away his second try and Thornton quickly following up with a second UCD conversion.
Five minutes later, UCD began to build on their lead further by putting in a quick try when Daly charged over thanks to some good work from Alex Kelly. A third straight conversion to make it 21-0 was followed by five minutes of near uninterrupted UCD pressure, with a new long ball approach that kept Belfast on the back foot. Scrums aplenty made up the following exchanges.
Harlequins’ Captain, Lawrence Babe, screamed for an emotional response from his teammates, but these emotions did little to stifle a UCD’s dominance. Some superb interceptions from Kelly, Daly and David Doyle kept the game as an explosive spectacle to watch, with each man sprinting from their own 22 metre lines to the away side’s try-line.
Doyle was able to touch over and his try was then converted to give Collidge complete control of the game. Belfast closed the opening half inside the home side’s five metre line, visibly frustrated with themselves. As the whistle blew for half-time, Belfast were staring down the barrel of a 28-0 deficit.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first, with UCD punishing the visitor’s failure to convert their chances in the cruellest of manners, as another interception run by Daly resulted in UCD’s fifth try without reply. Thornton missed for the first time in the game as the home team led 33-0.
Belfast would spend the next while within the UCD five metre line, as players threw their bodies on the line in an attempt to gain any sense of momentum, yet they still had problems with finishing as they left behind a variety of missed opportunities.
These problems would give way to frustration as Adam Clarkin for UCD and Niall Annet for Belfast both received yellow cards. UCD were scrappy in their defence, but lost their edge mentally and looked visibly worn down by the smothering Belfast pressure. The attritional nature second half, which centred heavily on rucks and scrums, allowed Belfast to get the better of their hosts in the physical exchanges.
A missed tackle by Alex Kelly off the back of a ruck deep within the UCD half allowed Sean O’Connell to bite down on his mouthpiece and put away his side’s first points of the game. What the try lacked in finesse, it more than made up for in grit.
UCD responded with their final attack of the day, with a successful scrum opening up angles for Danny Kenny who looked certain to score before being denied brilliantly by Belfast’s Michael Heaney. Heaney then sparked a stuttering Harlequins offence from a line-out, which allowed Michael Ferguson to secure a second try for the away side, with Heaney knocking over the extras. UCD’s lead had been cut to a relatively comfortable 33-14.
With UCD’s composure now in question, Belfast switched to a long ball strategy to once again find themselves in the all too familiar position of the UCD five metre line. Belfast used a line-out to create the their most crowd-pleasing attack of the day, as a sly ball in to Paul Rea allowed the large man to bull forward and ground the ball for another five points, although Heaney was unable to convert.
The final whistle was a welcome sound to a rapidly fading UCD side, who seemed to be struggling to grapple with a Belfast team that had finally carved out its sweet spot. Harlequins, once in the driver’s seat, fully capitalised on a tired UCD who lacked the fortitude to go a full eighty minutes.
At the end of the day, however, it is UCD who leave with five points and remain second in the table, four points behind a Ballynahinch team who have played one less game. UCD’s next game is this Saturday away to Ballymena at 2.30pm.
UCD: Andy Boyle, Sam Coghlan-Murray, Alex Kelly, Stephen Murphy, Barry Daly, James Thornton, Jamie Glynn, James Tracy, Risteard Byrne (Capt), Rory Harrison, Shane Grannell, Emmet MacMahon, Conor Gilsenan, David Doyle, Danny Kenny.
Belfast Harlequins: Adam D’Arcy, Rory Scholes, Ryan Martin, William Stewart, Roger Kirkwood, Mark Best, Michael Heaney, Mark McGrath, Niall Annett, Neil Simpson, Michael Ferguson, Paul Rea, Lawrence Babe (Capt), Darryl Marshall, Sean O’Connell
Reporting by Jack Walsh