Belvedere power their way to third straight Leinster final

Phil Werahiko’s side play to strengths to book place in St Patrick’s Day decider

Belvedere College 17 Clongowes Wood College 12

It might look like a captivating end game but really Belvedere's power forwards coasted back into the Leinster schools cup final for a third successive season with victory over Clongowes at Donnybrook.

Blackrock, or in the event of a massive upset Gonzaga, will join them at the RDS on St Patrick’s Day (kick-off 2pm).

This felt like and was a routine victory for Phil Werahiko’s well-drilled teenagers. Sodden conditions demanded a pack-focused approach where Belvedere’s heavyweight number eight Ruadhán Byron carried up the guts of the Clongowes defence.

Literally; one carry saw him burst through a ruck and gallop away. Such acts of physical dominance swung momentum firmly behind the Great Denmark Street school. Hugh O’Sullivan, the place-kicking fullback but a professional prospect at scrumhalf, was short with his first shot at goal after three minutes but this preceded the loss of Clongowes openside Anthony Ryan to a shoulder injury.

Belvedere only needed a try in either half to prevail. The first, after 10 minutes, came from Byron trucking over the gainline before outhalf David Hawkshaw feinted to attack wide right, only to slip a clever reverse pass that sent left wing Jordan Wilkes skating over untouched.

O’Sullivan converted and added a penalty to make it 10-0 on 20 minutes following another sustained period of pressure created by the malfunctioning Clongowes lineout.

When his pack needed some respite Hawkshaw would send the big number 12 Cian Walsh crashing through midfield.

A comprehensive Belvedere win was promised until the rain came. Clongowes, initially, reacted better with captain and number eight Seán McCrohan blocking down an O’Sullivan kick.

Belvedere survived that moment of panic but were shown up by a clever Clongowes try. Hooker Dan Sheehan threw to the tail of the lineout where McCrohan set up the maul, only for flanker David Jeffares to pop the ball to scrumhalf Joe Murphy. A quick pass saw Ben O'Shea carry straight to the Belvedere line. The gaping hole was caused by defending flanker Conor Doran being clearly impeded (the referee was busy enough with the run of play).

O’Shea missed the conversion so these ancient Jesuit rivals, who can each lay claim to James Joyce, turned around with Belvedere leading 10-5. The defending champions sought shelter in Bective Rangers’ clubhouse but Clongowes Wood risked a chill by conducting their team talk on the pitch.

Belvedere duly dominated the early second-half exchanges but wasted two driving mauls – clearly, a primary weapon as it has been with all Werahiko operations down through the years – as a clear five points went begging.

No matter. Their relentless carrying up front eventually wore Clongowes down. Oran O’Brien, the Belvo lock, rose with the ball after a succession of pick and rumbles that arguably could have been stopped by quicker defence around the corner.

Anyway, the hammer blow had been coming. O’Sullivan’s conversion seemed to settle matters at 17-5 with 20 minutes remaining.

Clongowes never go down this quietly. Despite poor accuracy in the face of a solid Belvedere defence, where Hawkshaw more than filled his duties with two turnovers (one incorrectly deemed illegal), Murphy eventually sneaked over as injury time fast approached.

O’Shea rushed and almost missed his conversion under the crossbar, but by making it 17-12 the centre sent a jolt of fear through the north Dubliners’ ranks.

Belvedere have more in them than this, and they escaped a nervy finale mainly due to the Clongowes lineout stuttering once again, but an alternation to these tactics will be needed to overcome Blackrock on March 17th. If the opposition proves to be the smaller Gonzaga, who enter Donnybrook on Tuesday with a seriously talented backline, they won’t need to change a thing.

Scoring sequence – 10 mins: J Wilkes try, 5-0; H O'Sullivan con, 7-0; 20 mins: H O'Sullivan pen, 10-0; 28 mins: B O'Shea try, 10-5. Half-time. 48 mins: O O'Brien try, 15-5; H O'Sullivan con, 17-5; 66 mins: J Murphy try, 17-10; B O'Shea con, 17-12.

BELVEDERE COLLEGE: H O'Sullivan; M Donnelly, P Maher, C Walsh, J Wilkes; D Hawkshaw, P Cagney; C Molloy, A McDonnell, J Robinson; G Murray, O O'Brien; M Kearney (capt), C Doran, R Byron.

Replacements: S Barry for J Wilkes (42 mins), T Walsh for P Cagney (63 mins), C Byrne for A McDonnell, D Hill for O O'Brien (both 65 mins).

CLONGOWES WOOD COLLEGE: J Gilheany; R Lemess, J Carroll, B O'Shea, J Maher; T Monaghan, J Murphy; J Timmins, D Sheehan, A Odlum; S Phelan, M Martin; D Jeffares, A Ryan, A McCrohan (capt).

Replacements: T Coghlan for A Ryan (6 mins, inj), C Daly for J Murphy (34-35 mins, blood), P Celebi for D Jeffares (42 mins), C Gallen for J Gilheany (57 mins).

Referee: Dermot Blake (Leinster).