Ahead of his side’s most important match of the season, Richie Mandeno reflects on UCD’s bonus point win over Buccaneers last time out, gives his opinion on College’s Ireland U-20 stars and next weekend’s must-win home clash with Belfast Harlequins.
“Contrary to the match report, I did not break my year-long try-scoring drought last Saturday against Buccaneers. Believe me, I thought I was in and had a clear run to the line but my pace – somewhat similar to that of a turtle on the morning after a bender – only got me a yard out.
“It was my locking partner and Under-20 international Conor McInerney who actually dotted down. But if the match report wants to gift the try to me, I will certainly take it!
“Having the Ireland Grand Slam-winning U-20 internationals back for the Buccaneers match really gave the team a boost. The energy and enthusiasm they bring to the team helps raise the standards. Not to mention they are quality players who add huge amounts to the team.
“The main aspect I notice with the U-20s is that these lads just love to play, they support each other and are very quick to pick you up after mistakes or praise team members after a good hit or carry. This praise is contagious and really gets the team buzzing during the match.
“As I said in my last diary piece, the Buccs match was a must win for us – winning this match meant that our relegation battle would come down to the final game against Belfast Harlequins.
“We came out onto the Dubarry Park pitch buzzing, after we found ourselves 12-0 up within ten minutes, thanks to tries from Vasily Artemiev and Conor. It was looking good for us, the second try (which I was credited with!) was described by our coach as the try of the season. I would like to think that was, in no small part, due to my amazing pace!
“Just then Buccs started to play, and managed to put together some phases and pile some pressure on us. The old devil that, in no small part, cost us games earlier in the season was coming back to haunt us. With Buccs enjoying some possession and territory, we started to give away penalties. The frustration within the team was obvious and from 12-0 up Buccs came back with three penalties in quick succession.
“Somehow, with the help of a crucial reversed penalty decision that was within kickable range for Buccs, we were able to climb out of that 10-minute slump. At half-time, we had the bonus point and were well on our way to a five-pointer, running out as 37-16 winners.
“This weekend I am sure will be a step-up in intensity fromthe Buccaneers match, as we take on Harlequins at Belfield in what is a winner-takes-all game. Although Buccs are a quality side, last week when we played them – unlike us – the threat of relegation was not solely in their own hands. With Belfast Harlequins sitting only one point above us in the AIB League Division One table, this match is do or die for both clubs.
“I always find it very hard to comment on the match ahead. I do know that ‘Quins have run into sublime form since the Christmas break. I am sure there will be large contingent of ‘Quins supporters down at the Bowl to cheer them on. So all we at UCD can do is give our best and hopefully the game will go our way and we can steer clear of relegation.”