Lansdowne edge champions in tense, compelling showdown
Clontarf left to rue missed chances as challengers reel in nine-point second- half lead
Lansdowne celebrate their triumph in the rugby Ulster Bank League Division 1A final at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The result distorts the lingering image, the colour of victory against the monochrome of defeat. Players and coaches often speak about learning more from losing; the painful flashbacks take longer to erase in the mind’s eye but the details remain.
The scoreline encapsulates the overview of the Division 1A final of a tight, tense, tussle that will tease defending champions Clontarf. The phrase “if only” will loom large in their recollections.
Lansdowne would empathise because if they had lost they too would have been confronted by the demons of regret. The topsy-turvy nature of the contest made for a compelling if imperfect spectacle, where the tension compensated adequately for the liberal sprinkling of errors.
There were occasions when both teams would have profited from discarding the playbook and instead playing with heads up. Overloading the short side with seven players in a 10-metre space, all demanding a touch, or constantly looking for the inside pass rendered the attacking patterns a little predictable.
This contrasted sharply when the teams looked to create and exploit space. Clontarf managed it beautifully twice in the first half. Collie O’Shea was sent scampering clear down the touchline, but gave what should have been scoring pass too early to the supporting Tony Byrne.
The excellent Matt D’Arcy’s in-to-out break allowed him to release young right wing Conor O’Brien, but in tucking it under his arm, the ball sprung loose.
It was Lansdowne that scored the only try in the first half when outhalf Scott Deasy’s beautifully weighted kick was gathered and offloaded – it looked a smidge forward – in one motion by Thomas Farrell. Mark Roche demonstrated his strength and dexterity to score in the corner.
It gave Lansdowne an 8-6 interval lead that would have had Clontarf scratching their heads. They dominated at scrum time, reflected in a lob-sided penalty count, and also pinched a handful of opposition lineouts.
It wasn’t until the 44th minute that referee Sean Gallagher decided that Lansdowne had transgressed once too often at the scrum when brandishing a yellow card to Adam Boland. The irony was that he had done much to stabilise a scrum that was eviscerated prior to his arrival on 27 minutes.
Clontarf coach Andy Wood admitted afterwards: “It took a long time for a yellow card to be given. We were clearly on top from the first scrum. It was an area we thought we could get some purchase, we did; I don’t think that we were fully rewarded for it.
“But by the same token it did give us an edge and field position. I wouldn’t be looking for any excuses. On the day we did have a lot of territory. We did create a lot of chances. We didn’t finish off a number of line breaks.”
During Boland’s absence, Clontarf tagged on 11 points, two penalties from the boot of fullback Rob Keogh – he had kicked a brace in the first half - and an intercept try from Matt D’Arcy that was unconverted try for a 17-8 lead.
Wood added: “It wasn’t a match-winning lead with 20 minutes to go. If we had scored the next points then I think we could have tried to close it out.”
Lansdowne demonstrated character and timing in their swift response, initially winning a penalty in the ’Tarf’ 22. Lansdowne captain and number eight, Ron Boucher, explained: “We were ruthless. We got that penalty, went to the corner and drove it over.”
Deasy kicked a brilliant touchline conversion via an upright and then tagged a penalty with an equally impressive strike to nudge Lansdowne 18-17 in front with 12 minutes left. Clontarf’s Ariel Robles received a questionable yellow card for a late tackle on the excellent Cian Kelleher, but despite being a man up Lansdowne were forced to dig in, with hooker Tyrone Moran playing a standout role.
Lansdowne coach Mike Ruddock enthused: “What was good about that win and what has been good about our season, we have won a lot of those tight games, we found the resolve. When that intercept try went against us we were staring down the barrel. To dig in, come back and get that result was a formidable effort by the boys.”