DUBLIN UNIVERSITY 23 BUCCANEERS 19
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY pipped Buccaneers 23-19 in their crunch Ulster Bank League encounter at College Park, Dublin, on Saturday. Just a solitary point separated these teams before this vital clash of third versus fourth as Division 1B enters the final straight and the home win now gives Trinity a key edge in the chase for promotion. A fine afternoon and a decent, if passing, attendance witnessed an exhilarating contest that could have gone either way on a firm, relatively grassless surface.
College made three changes, all in their backline, from their colours defeat to UCD. James O’Donoghue came in at fullback, Ariel Robles in the centre and Cathal Marsh at outhalf. Meanwhile, Buccs fielded an unchanged squad with Kolo Kiripati again on the bench.
Trinity were quickest out of the starting blocks and early pressure was rewarded with a 3rd minute Marsh penalty from in front of the posts after Buccs came in from the side. But when the Students were guilty of not rolling away six minutes later, Jack Carty opened the Pirates’ account. Then a high tackle that stopped a promising 13th minute break by Conor Finn went unpunished and Trinity made the most of their good fortune when Neil Hanratty countered through the midlanders’ ranks where his progress was eventually stopped by Conor FitzGibbon but Paddy Lavelle was on his shoulder to touchdown just right of the posts. Marsh’s conversion was straight-forward for a 10-3 advantage. But Buccs were back on level terms within five minutes. Finn was prominent again going forward and the visitors pack then made good ground to force a five-metre scrum from which Eoghan Grace peeled away to get the ball via Mark Dolan to FitzGibbon and the teenage winger scythed through for a try at the posts which Carty converted. FitzGibbon then fielded a poor Michael McLoughlin clearance and, when the Students came in from the side, Carty landed a lengthy penalty to put Buccs 13-10 ahead after a hectic opening 23 minutes. Carty was off-target with two penalty kicks either side of a Marsh miss while Buccs should have had a healthier lead at the interval but Garreth Halligan had no support as his terrific charge down the left flank was stopped by a quartet of Trinity players just short of the hosts’ line.
Mataele Fifita replaced FitzGibbon (with Finn switching to the left wing) for the second half but the big centre had a torrid introduction, promptly conceding two penalties (both of which Marsh gratefully converted, his second effort just squeezing inside the far upright) as well as visiting the sin bin on 50 minutes for slowing possession after Finn had run into trouble when he had space to kick into. This rejuventated Trinity, who now led 16-13, whilst putting an added workload on the Athlone side already busy dealing with a more solid College pack. The experienced Kiripati now came on for Rory Byrne and Buccs took the game to their hosts despite their temporary numerical deficiency. The Pirates’ skipper broke from the back of a scrum after 57 minutes and sent Billy Henshaw scampering down the right flank before the Trinity defence forced him into touch six metres short of the goal line. Then hands on the ground by the Students yielded a penalty which Carty slotted over from the left to level matters again at 16-16.
The decisive score arrived after 66 minutes, Trinity wrong-footing Fifita before the ball was spread swiftly to the left where, for once, Niyi Adeolokan evaded Henshaw for his ninth try of the season and Marsh, who later missed a penalty, added the conversion. Carty was blatantly body-checked after chipping the cover on 74 minutes but no penalty accrued to Buccs who continued to press forward. Kiripati made a surge down the left a minute later and off-loaded to Halligan but the gallant hooker was wrapped up and just could not get his pass away to the over-lapping Dolan. However, moments later, Carty drilled over a fine drop goal to set up a grandstand finish.
Buccs had survived a Trinity onslaught in the closing stages when the sides met earlier in the season at Dubarry Park. Now it was College’s time to defend desperately but they conceded one more penalty in midfield which Carty lofted towards touch in the left corner. His kick fell just short and was taken back over the home line by a Trinity player who then grounded the ball. To the amazement of most spectators, not only was a five-metre scrum not awarded to Buccs but the referee blew full time prematurely, certainly short of 80 minutes! This left Buccaneers frustrated after an exciting, fast duel in which they played their part in this absorbing contest.
Trinity are very well-drilled with an excellent pack where Pierce Dargan was a persistent menace. Their backline, orchestrated superbly by Marsh, constantly probed at pace and, overall, College just about deserved the spoils that keeps them just one point adrift of their arch rivals UCD. Buccs had to work that bit harder to counter a lack of real bulk in their forwards and, on the day, their tackling was not as crisp as it usually is or needed to be. However, their first losing bonus point of the campaign keeps their aspirations still alive.
TRINITY COLLEGE:- J.O’Donoghue; N.Hanratty, A.Robles, P.Lavelle, N.Adeolokan; C.Marsh, M.McLoughlin (captain); I.Hirst, W.Larkin, M.Kelly; C.MacDonnell, J.Kelly; P.Dargan, B.du Toit and J.Dilger. Replacements:- W.Scott (for MacDonnell, h/t), S.Pitman (for M.Kelly, h/t), C.Wade (for Robles, inj. 54 mins), A.Lloyd (for Adeolokan, 72 mins) and G.Blackburn.
BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland; B.Henshaw, C.Finn, A.Hayman, C.FitzGibbon; J.Carty, M.Dolan; M.Staunton, G.Halligan, J.Roets; J.Tormey, R.Byrne; L.Satchwell, D.Heffernan and E.Grace. Replacements:- M.Fifita (for FitzGibbon, h/t), K.Kiripati (for Byrne, 51 mins), P.Reilly (for Roets, 66 mins), D.Higgins and B.Digby.
REFEREE:- Olly Hodges (IRFU).