A bloodless battle really. The cold war it certainly was as a driving snowfall punctuated the sky over Donnybrook yesterday and brought with it a cold snap that froze the mind of all but tournament favourites Blackrock.
Peter Smyth's team arrived at the quarter-final, surveyed the forecast and employed a strict territorial game plan. Not unlike what we witnessed from Ireland during last Saturday's victory over Wales.
Polished number ten
In fairness, St Michael's coach Brian O'Meara, the capped scrumhalf, took a similar view. It's just that the delivery and precision of his kickers paled when compared to Sean Kearns.
The Blackrock outhalf is really a product of neighbouring CBC Monkstown – there are a few other players hailing from youths backgrounds but transferring to the rugby nursery for schooling – and looks the most polished number ten at underage level in Leinster.
Kearns already proved as much on this same surface against the touring Australia Schools. Here he was better again but the conditions demanded flawless line kicking. He delivered.
It helped that Kearns was arm-chairing it behind the biggest bunch of forwards ever seen in the schools game. Even without towering secondrow Jack Dwan, who is injured, they never once showed weakness in the collisions.
In contrast the likes of St Michael’s number eight Max Deegan and James Ryan were stopped cold in their tracks. Deegan and Ryan will return next season – undoubtedly bigger and scarier – along with another seven of St Michael’s starting XV.
Ryan remains a wonderful prospect and made one quality turnover near the end. But he was identified, particularly by the beefier David O’Connor, and nullified as Nick Timoney’s ultra-efficient pack were relentless and ruthless in equal measure.
Freezing hands and limbs denied any sort of expansive game.
This suited Timoney the most as the Leinster under-19s’ number eight did a great impression of Gordon D’Arcy when eking out two or three gains.
Another ferocious sight coming around the corner of the ’Rock ruck is Jeremy Loughman. Like O’Connor, the huge prop was a key figure in last year’s cup success.
Now they are even more punishing specimens. Same applies to Dane Fitzpatrick while openside Conor Oliver is a David among Goliaths.
Best ball-carrier of all though was blindside Caelan Doris.
St Michael's actually landed the first score through sometimes outhalf, sometimes centre, Matthew Gilsenan's trusty boot.
Fullback Gavin Duffy was coping well with the constant probing balls from Joey Carberry, Tristan Brady and Kearns, even giving it back to them with interest. But Kearns wasn’t long levelling matters with a strike from 45 metres.
Then the snow came and with it Blackrock’s steely resolve became the most evident feature of the contest.
Hugo Keenan claimed he first try in the left corner after quick hands off an impregnable lineout.
Kearns couldn’t land the touchline conversion but kept Blackrock 11-6 clear early in the second-half.
Gilsenan had kept a healthy crowd interested by reducing arrears just before the break.
Thereafter, Blackrock seemed to click into autopilot while O’Meara made several shuffles that didn’t pay off. St Michael’s weren’t helped by the loss of scrumhalf Dave Duggan to injury but re-jigging the backline, with Gilsenan permanently to outhalf, produced little difference.
Nor did the gimmicky tactic of the centres grabbing Blackrock defenders off the ball. In fact, it prompted referee Dudley Philips to penalise them on two occasions. And that meant more territorial gain for Blackrock.
Safe passage to the semi-final was all about playing the ball ahead of your forwards. That was the lesson Blackrock meted out.
With 57 minutes spent, Timoney's men, perhaps sensing the unnecessary danger of ploughing on with a six-point advantage, duly upped the tempo. Hard yards were made by Doris, Oliver, O'Connor, Eoin Fanning and Loughman before more quick hands found Jack Power.
The centre had options but choose to bring the last defender over the line with him.
Time was squeezed out of the day by more close-in rumbles with St Michael's constantly blown for offside. Timoney kept signalling for scrums. More punishment until the job was done.
BLACKROCK COLLEGE: J Carberry; Z O'Hagan, J Power, I Kinsley, H Keenan; S Kearns, T Brady; D Fitzpatrick, H Keane, J Loughman; D O'Connor, C O'Dwyer; C Doris, C Oliver, N Timoney. Replacement: E Fanning for C O'Dwyer (47 mins).
ST MICHAEL'S COLLEGE: G Duffy; T Molony, A Leavy, M Gilsenan, O O'Meara; R Cosgrave, D Duggan; R Mulvihill, R Kelleher, H Redmond; O Dowling, J Ryan; C Cregan, A Penny, M Deegan. Replacements: E O'Neill for R Mulvihil (half-time), I McGrath for O Dowling (42 mins), J O'Connell for D Duggan (44 mins), K Victory for R Cosgrave (52 mins), P O'Connor for T Molony, for J Bollard (both 63 mins).
Referee: D Philips (LRR).