10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
The club game's standard bearers Shannon secured their eighth AIB League Division One title on Saturday as they beat Clontarf 30-3 at Lansdowne Road.
AIB LEAGUE: Saturday, May 13
DIVISION ONE FINAL:
CLONTARF 3 SHANNON 30, Lansdowne Road (Att: 8,750)
Scorers: Clontarf: Pen: Daragh O'Shea
Shannon: Tries: Sean Cronin, Eoin Cahill, Andrew Thompson, David O'Donovan; Cons: David Delaney 2; Pens: Delaney 2
Ireland Under-21 hooker Sean Cronin turned in a man of the match performance as Shannon swept to their third successive League crown - and eighth in all - at headquarters.
Cronin was immense as his own ninth-minute try proved to be the catalyst for the Limerick men.
An All-Ireland winner with the Shannon Under-20s last month, Cronin put in a brilliant tackle on Clontarf winger Derek Keane, two minutes into the second half, which psychologically defeated the north Dubliners. Keane, despite having a few metres head start on the front rower, was hauled down just short of the Shannon line when a try seemed certain.
Little went Clontarf's way in front of an official attendance of 8,750. Full back Daragh O'Shea's 16th-minute penalty proved to be their only score on a day when their 11-game winning streak, which stretched back to December, was smashed to pieces.
At the other end of the spectrum, for Shannon winger Andrew Thompson, it was as memorable an afternoon as they come. The 32-year-old Portlaoise man collected a record eighth League winners' medal, and marked the occasion by scoring a try in the 72nd-minute, out-pacing his brother-in-law Fiach O'Loughlin, the 'Tarf scrum half, in the process.
The fact that Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan, whose season has been ravaged by a cruciate knee ligament injury, came off the bench to keep himself in the thoughts of Munster coach Declan Kidney for next weekend's Heineken Cup final only added to the Shannon feel-good factor. It was Shannon's day and little was stopping their now familiar march on Dublin 4.
...The Clontarf team, skippered by Johnny Wickham (front ront, centre), before kick-off...
After O'Shea had missed an early penalty shot, Shannon gradually took the possessional reins and made the most of it. But it took a moment of magic from Cronin to make the breakthrough on the scoreboard. A long skipp pass found Cronin on the Shannon ten-metre line - there was little on but the former Schools international managed to shrug off James Downey's tackle to speed into space. Cronin passed for Brian Tuohy to race up the left flank and a neat switch with Thompson saw the ball suddenly back in Cronin's arms and the young hooker was clean through for his fourth try of the campaign.
Out-half David Delaney converted before O'Shea regained his and 'Tarf's poise with a 38-metre penalty success. 'Tarf were coming more and more into it, but Shannon's defensive wall was rock solid and not even a sizzling break from semi-final hero Niall O'Brien could see 'Tarf add to their tally.
Delaney punished O'Loughlin for a cynical ruck infringement on 19 minutes, slotting over his first penalty and he added a second just before the break for a 13-3 lead.
Keane, the League's top try scorer, had been kept quiet in the opening half but when he swooped on a loose ball just after the break, surely the try deadlock would be broken for 'Tarf. Shannon centre Eoin Cahill was beaten for pace in a 40-metre dash, but in a stunning last gasp effort, Cronin got back to halt the beffy winger's charge.
'Tarf boss Phil Werahiko was left cursing his side's luck again on 49 minutes when O'Shea missed a veritable sitter of a penalty from just outside the Shannon 22. Shannon supremo Mick Galwey, in only his second season in charge, brought Quinlan and his Munster compatriot Stephen Keogh off the bench for the final quarter and it was not long until the men from the south were completely on top and out of sight.
...The victorious Shannon team, led by Colm McMahon (front row, third from right), before kick-off...
Shannon went through the phases, picking-and-driving up to the line for try number two. The impressive Delaney swung a pass out to the left for Cahill to squeeze through a double hit from O'Loughlin and O'Shea and score his third try in two games. Delaney converted and with an hour gone it looked like game over - 20-3 to Shannon.
Still, Galwey and company would have been wary. Twelve months ago, Shannon led Belfast Harlequins 25-0 at half time in the final, only to concede 20 points in the second half and almost lose their way.
However, there was no such danger this time as a sweeping break from Delaney put Thompson haring in from the left flank, evading O'Loughlin's tap tackle, for an excellent try. The score, which went unconverted, took Thompson's haul as the all-time record points scorer in Division One up to 999 points.
Flatteringly, Shannon got in for a fourth try. For all of 'Tarf's efforts - at least they can look back on a season in which they finished the League phase as Leinster's top club for the fourth time in five years - there was a bit of inevitability about replacement David O'Donovan's injury-time score. He chased his own kick ahead and touched down after a horrible bounce saw the ball squirm away from replacement Darragh Geraghty's grasp.
Delaney missed the conversion from the right, but Shannon did not care. Incredibly, after their fifth League play-off final win, the Limerick club's run of not having been beaten in a cup final of any description since 1989 remains intact.
CLONTARF: D O'Shea; N O'Brien, M Hewitt, J Downey, D Keane; P O'Brien, F O'Loughlin; J Wickham (capt), N Carson, R Sweeney, A Trenier, A Wood, J Ellison, D O'Brien, P Purdue.
Replacements used: M Rantz-McDonald for Keane (47 mins), K Dorian for Sweeney, A O'Donnell for Wickham (both 60), D Quinn for Purdue (74), P Whately for Carson, D Geraghty for O'Loughlin (both 80).
SHANNON: M Lawlor; P O'Connor, B Tuohy, E Cahill, A Thompson; D Delaney, F McNamara; L Hogan, S Cronin, G McNamara, T Hogan, P O'Brien, C McMahon (capt), J O'Connor, D Ryan.
Replacements used: A Quinlan for McMahon, S Keogh for O'Brien (both 53 mins), D O'Donovan for P O'Connor (74), TJ Hickey for Cronin, T Downes for L Hogan (both 80+1), M Tuohy for Thompson, J Clogan for Cahill (both 80+2).
Referee: Alain Rolland (IRFU)