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.
Naas 3 Instonians 10
Forenaughts, Saturday December 1st
A well-rounded Instonians XV made it five wins from five attempts in the AIB League Div 3 when they beat Naas 7-3 on Saturday last in Forenaughts. Despite scavenging like hyenas and harassing the Belfast outfit to near distraction the Kildare side failed to cross for the try that would have delivered a highly unlikely victory and, instead had to make do with the bonus point on offer for losing by seven points or less.
Instonians were mightily impressive and despite the fact that they fell a point behind leaders Bruff in the league standings, as a result of not picking up the four-try bonus point they showed enough endeavour and invention over the eighty minutes to suggest that they'll be knocking at the door when the honours are being distributed in May.
Their power up front was evident from the opening minute when, after Naas fumbled the kick off inside their own 22, the Northern eight steamrolled the ensuing scrum toward the line before being resisted by what turned out to be a feature of the day - stoic and robust "thou shalt not pass" home goal-line defence. Instonians had the aid of the strong breeze in the opening period and after that initial cameo it appeared as if Naas and the local scoreboard operator were going to be in for a long afternoon.Indeed soon after, a sweeping move into the left corner seemed certain to yield their first try but a forward pass negated the certain score.
At this stage the powerful and athletic Instonians pack was treating their much lighter opposition like a rag doll, in the process creating time and space for their pacey three-quarter line. That combination paid handsome dividends in the 25th minute when a maul in midfield created just sufficient room for their ex-Ireland international Niall Malone to storm into the line from full back and set up speedy left winger Richard "Rusty" Fagan to score what turned out to be the only try of the game.
Out half Owen McMurray converted and all the sages around Forenaughts nodded wisely and knowingly as Instonians seemed to be on their way to a four-try bonus point win.Cue however the fighting spirit of a Naas side that had to battle valiantly to repel the wave after wave of attack that the Belfast outfit rained down on them.
Another flowing move, again with Malone being the chief facilitator, was thwarted by a knock on in contact at the Naas goal line and led to a goal line stand just before half time that seemed to go on for an eternity. It lasted all of five minutes and it encapsulated the essence of the game; the joust between the stream-lined muscle of the Instonians rugby machine and the stout, incorrigible rearguard action of an at-times over-stretched Naas defence.The home side won out and the cheer that greeted the half time whistle must have been manna to the Kildare boys.
McMurray helped their cause as he missed two kickable penalties either side of the break and the hosts got a further boost when out half David Aherne converted a straightforward penalty goal in the 56th minute when Instonians were pinged for not rolling away in the tackle. Naas at this stage were causing all sorts of angst in the visitor's ranks and that anxiety reached a crescendo in the 66th minute when Instonians No 8 Darren Little was sin binned for repeated red zone team infringements.
The hosts went all out for the try they felt would win the game, declining a relatively easy penalty kick within ten metres of the opposition line but this time it was Instonians' turn to prove their defensive mettle and they raised the siege; in fact they dominated the final ten minutes or so through the sniping and general play of their outstanding scrum half David O'Hara (surely bound for higher than AIB Div 3).
On a miserable winter's day it was a game that entertained and maintained the spectators' interest as two distinct rugby styles and cultures crossed swords. Instonians will be disappointed not to have won more convincingly while Naas, having rejoined the all Ireland League after three years in the Leinster League, are showing that they are well capable of holding their own at this level.
Their fighting spirit was summed up by their captain lock forward Dave Conneran who led his side by example with player/coach Andrew "Melly" Melville an able lieutenant.