Curtain raised but not on greatest show

RUGBY EXHIBITION MATCH Leinster/Ulster 68 Munster/Connacht 0: THE AVIVA Stadium opened on Saturday and it was shiny and colourful…

RUGBY EXHIBITION MATCH Leinster/Ulster 68 Munster/Connacht 0:THE AVIVA Stadium opened on Saturday and it was shiny and colourful and struck all the right chords except for the most important one. The game.

It won’t matter soon, but the embarrassing scoreline proved this fixture was ill-conceived.

What can be said to the 23 youths from Munster and Connacht who were cobbled together, just like their opponents in fairness, at such short notice? You will always remember this day. Yes, unfortunately, teenagers tend to remember their worst ever beating for a long time.

The opening showcase of rugby in the new arena, the O2 Challenge, as we were repeatedly reminded of its correct title, quickly became a humiliating farce.


Oops. Quick, some positives.

Many of these schoolboy and youth representatives will be funnelled into the Academy systems; 10 of the 45 on show are already signed-up contenders for the professional ranks, so it was undoubtedly an opportunity for some bright spark to make a statement.

Step forward Paddy Jackson. The recently graduated Methody outhalf used the game as his own personal canvas to splash his burgeoning talent into the mainstream consciousness.

We may even see Mr Jackson back here in a few years.

He cleverly engineered the first ever try at the reopened Lansdowne Road (we know, it’s called Aviva now) with a perfectly weighted chip to the right touchline, where old school pal and Dungannon RFC winger Craig Gilroy gratefully gathered to race over after just four minutes.

There followed a deluge of tries as the Munster/Connacht rearguard buckled, with Jackson dictating matters from the comfort of the armchair ride provided by a marauding pack of Leinster/Ulster forwards.

Clearly, whoever selected these teams got it terribly wrong.

Jackson also kicked a perfect six conversions, three from out near the touchline.

Others impressed but none more so than the blonde mane of winning captain Luke Marshall at inside centre.

The end result was an easily forgettable encounter that provided mere window dressing so the IRFU could lift the curtain on Aviva. The crowd gathered as much, with many of the 35,150 growing attached to their afternoon pints backstage and spurning a return to their seats after half-time.

The Mexican wave wasn’t long following the torrent of one-way traffic as Boyle and Marshall both added their second touchdowns. Jackson kept banging them between the uprights as well.

The biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for a garda as he shoved a young man towards the exit for blowing on a vuvuzela. They are banned around these parts and the Aviva crowd seemed to concur.

This was a preamble to ensure rugby got in ahead of soccer but, all told, it was good to be back.

Scoring sequence – 4 mins: C Gilroy try, 5-0; P Jackson con, 7-0; 10 mins: L Marshall try, 12-0; P Jackson con, 14-0; 15 mins: A Boyle try, 19-0; P Jackson con, 21-0; 25 mins: S Coughlan Murray try, 26-0; P Jackson con, 28-0; 37 mins: A Boyle try, 33-0; P Jackson con, 35-0; 41 mins: L Marshall try, 40-0; P Jackson 42-0. Half-time. 54 mins: A Boyle try, 47-0; C Marsh con, 49-0; 63 mins: C Gilroy try, 54 -0; 67 mins: C Spence try, 59-0; C Marsh con, 61-0; 75 mins: M McAuley try, 66-0; C Marsh con, 68-0.

LEINSTER/ULSTER: S Coughlan Murray; C Gilroy, A Kelly, L Marshall, A Boyle,; P Jackson, P du Toit; J Tracy, J Murphy, M Moore; I Henderson, R Hynes; S Lecky, M McGroarty, D McGuigan. Replacements: A Warrick for M Moore, P Marks for P Hynes (both half-time), M Fallon for I Henderson (46 mins), C Spence for P du Toit, C Marsh for P Jackson (both 48 mins), P Carroll for J Murphy (56 mins), M McAuley for S Coughlan Murray (65 mins).

MUNSTER/CONNACHT: C Bolan; T Leader, D Horgan, B Sargent, S Leydon; J Holland, M Dolan; A Spring, K Stokes, P Mullen; RP Herlihy, D O'Mahony; S Buckley, A Conneely, D Qualter. Replacements: G Quinn-McDonogh for D Horgan (35 mins), S Wooton for A Spring (40 mins), J Costigan for S Leydon, R Barry for M Dolan, I Mullarkey for D O'Mahony (all 72 mins).

Referee: A Rolland(IRFU).