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.
But it was St. Mary's College who upped their game and pushed on for the win, scoring three tries in a devastating ten-minute spell to seal a crucial win which gives them a four point lead at the top of AIB League Division 1A.
Impressive second row Robin Copeland once again showed his cleverness at the breakdown as he scored the final two tries for St. Mary's, bringing his try-scoring tally to seven tries in six matches.
Yet, the important score came in the 67th minute when replacement centre Philip Brophy was fed with a perfect pass from out-half Shaun McCarthy and he took the ball up close to the Blackrock try-line before flanker Damian Hall picked and drove over for the opening try.
St. Mary's coach Ciaran Potts, who has focused heavily on improving fitness levels for this season, gave deserved praise to a spirited last gasp push for the victory.
"Our fitness came through at the end and it's something we've always worked on very hard at during the pre-season and in fairness with 20 minutes to go, that probably could have been the difference between teams," he said.
"We might have had a bit extra in the legs and we were able to give a bit more in the crucial areas.
"There was a stage there with twenty minutes to go where it was still 6-3 and Blackrock missed a kick and they were piling on the pressure and at that stage it could have gone either way."
Potts offered deserved credit to man-of-the-match McCarthy, who coaches the St. Mary's backs. The Australian remained patient throughout the game despite finding it difficult to break down a solid 'Rock defence.
"Shaun has a welcome experience under his belt and he has a very cool head when he's playing," explained the former Leinster flanker.
"When we were trying to play rugby and it wasn't going our way we didn't panic, we still stuck to the same game plan which is a testament to Shaun."
As well as McCarthy, Potts was quick to laud the try-scoring abilities of Copeland.
"That's a lot of tries for a second row to get in the first division. Robin's a great player, he's a great athlete and hopefully he's being looked at and he goes on to bigger and better things because he definitely has it in him."
On the whole, it was a collective effort which really earned St. Mary's the spoils which puts them four points clear of Cork Constitution at the summit.
Yet they will need to maintain this form as they travel to Cork Con next week in what will most certainly be a tough encounter to finish off the first half of the season.
"We're not going to change anything going to Con. There's a great spirit in the team, they're coming out, they're playing hard, they're giving everything they have, so we're just going to go to Con and give it the exact same attitude," said Potts.
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