INSTONIANS 32 BRUFF 23, Donnybrook
Scorers: Instonians: Tries: Niall Malone, Adam Telford, Owen McMurray, Kenny Morton; Cons: Owen McMurray 3; Pens: Owen McMurray 2
Bruff: Tries: John Stephen Shine 2; Cons: Brian Cahill 2; Pens: Brian Cahill 3
Two of the toughest packs in the AIB League, two teams with an excellent defensive record, but equally two teams with a desire to play an up tempo game.
It could have been a tough, war of attrition type of game. Instead the crowd at Donnybrook were treated to a festival of running rugby.
Instonians had the key player in Niall Malone and his ability to direct play but also to unleash a hard running back-line proved the difference as Inst emerged on the right side of a four to two try count.
On an extremely cold day, the travelling supporters, both noisy and utterly committed to their teams, were kept warm by the action on the pitch.
Bruff's out-half Brian Cahill opened the scoring a minute into the game with a penalty but Inst set out their stall early with a number of probing runs that seemed to catch the much vaunted Bruff defence off guard.
On seven minutes, it paid dividends as centre Michael McKeever skipped inside the cover and floated a neat pass to Malone for the opening try of the game.
It was duly converted by full-back Owen McMurray, who was to have an excellent game with ball in hand and with the boot.
A couple of late changes to the Bruff side, which saw Eoin Cahill replace his brother Tony at scrum half and a switch in the three-quarters, may have disrupted the Bruff defensive patterns as Inst skipped in on 15 minutes for their second try.
From a well-drilled maul, Malone unleashed a long skip pass that saw Adam Telford beat the cover and grab his 13th try of the league campaign. McMurray, a member of the Ulster Academy, again added the two points.
Bruff showed just why they were near impossible to beat all season as they dug deep and hit back almost immediately.
A strong maul up the pitch got them within striking range, a quick ball to Brian Cahill saw him step inside and he offloaded to number 8 Martin O'Rourke who drove the cover and put flanker John Stephen Shine over for the score. Cahill added the conversion and the game was back on.
Both sides declined a number of penalty shots at goal in favour of touch kicks in a statement of intent. Inst applied this rule about halfway through and it paid off as Malone again set the line in motion for Kiwi centre Scott Uren to score.
Bruff refused to cave in and Brian Cahill landed a penalty on 33 minutes to reduce the deficit.
But Inst were to have the last word of the half when a quick tap penalty was impeded and earned them an extra 10 metres. McMurray bisected the posts with the kick to leave it 22-13 to the Belfast men at half-time.
The second half saw further commitment from both sides to play open rugby, though both got on the wrong side of referee Alan Rogan at the breakdown on a number of occasions.
Bruff's half-time pep talk from coach Eugene Murnane saw them take the game to Inst. Three minutes in, a long clearence kick was badly dealt with by Inst giving the big Bruff pack a chance to maul it to the posts before unleashing Shine for his and Bruff's second try.
Cahill was again accurate with the boot, adding the extras for a 22-20 scoreline. The score gave their supporters plenty of encouragement and the game was finely poised.
Seven minutes later the pendulum swung back to Inst as Bruff were penalised and warned for coming in at the side of a ruck.
Inst took the ball on and Bruff were again caught out, resulting in a yellow card for prop David Horan. He was replaced for the scrums by number 17 Stephen Foster, with back rower David Gardiner making way.
Instonians made the most of their numerical advantage and mounted a series of attacks on the Bruff line. Uren was held up just short but second row Kenny Morton was on hand to drive over under the posts. McMurray added the conversion for 29-20.
Both sides enjoyed good phases of possession and position and, as in the first half, the game went from end to end. Horan returned to the fray to make a number of good carries off lineout ball while O'Rourke, who had worked hard all day, made way for Ger Looby.
Bruff attacked the line and Horan and Shine were again in the van but Inst pilfered the ball. They could not clear the line cleanly and as Bruff's Paul O'Brien chipped ahead from broken play, he was unceremoniously dumped by Instonians hooker and stand-in captain Wilbur Leacock.
Referee Rogan adjudged it to be late and binned Leacock. Bruff kicked the penalty but the game was pretty much up and, from the restart, another infringement at a ruck allowed McMurray land a late, clinching penalty.
So a nine-point win for Inst and a first league play-off title for the Shaw's Bridge side, who lost the 2005 decider to Greystones. It was also revenge for Clem Boyd's men for their 6-5 defeat at Kilballyowen Park earlier in the season.
As the Inst boys celebrated with 'A Score is a Score', the Bruff faithful cheered their squad from the pitch as their unbeaten run came to an end.
INSTONIANS: Owen McMurray; Adam Telford, Scott Uren, Michael McKeever, Josh Devitt; Niall Malone, Davy O'Hara; Chris Schofield, Wilbur Leacock (capt), Gary Mitchell, Kenny Morton, Mark Wilson; John Gardiner, Adam Glass, Darren Lyttle.
Replacements used: Chris Good for Schofield (63 mins), Adam Craig For Gardiner (80+5).
BRUFF: Brendan Deady; Paul O'Brien, John Malone, Gary Leonard, Finbarr Hogan; Brian Cahill, Eoin Cahill; Gearoid Ryan, Cathal O'Regan (capt), David Horan; Diarmuid Murnane, Alan Bourke; David Gardiner, John Stephen Shine, Martin O'Rourke.
Replacements used: John Carroll for O'Brien (31-35 mins, blood sub), Ger Looby for O'Rourke (61 mins), Stephen Foster for Gardiner (54-61, blood sub), Foster for Ryan (69), Andrew Goodman for Bourke (73).
Referee: Alan Rogan (IRFU)