The top four looks set but there are some tricky games to negotiate before the playoff places are decided in Division 1.
The top four sides all recorded victories on Saturday and seem set to hold their places, though both Dolphin and UCD still entertain hopes of a playoff spot. The Cork side face a tough run with games against Cork Con and Shannon on the cards while the students also face Shannon and defending champions Garryowen as part of their run in making it likely that the top four will stay as is.
Cork Constitution 19-8 St Mary’s College
Fresh from coaching the Ireland AIB Club international team to victory over Scotland, Brian Walsh watched his Cork Constitution side do the business against St Mary’s College.
At Temple Hill, Munster-contracted full-back Denis Hurley did most of the damage for Con by scoring a try in each half.
Mary’s edged the first quarter thanks to a Frank Lynch penalty but Hurley scored on the stroke of half-time with Daragh Lyons converting for a 7-3 Con lead.
Lyons set up a 61st-minute try for Munster’s Anthony Horgan before Hurley touched down again and Mary’s grabbed a consolation try in injury-time through back rower Robin Copeland.
The win was Con’s fourth league success on the bounce and it comes at the crucial stage as it keeps them at the league’s summit ahead of the final three rounds of regulation games.
In excellent spring-time conditions, Mary’s began well with big forwards Gareth Logan, Conor McInerney and Hugh Hogan standing out in their pack.
Con welcomed back winger Cronan Healy from his run-out with the Ireland AIB Club International side last week but were without former Munster and Ireland utility back John Kelly who is currently away.
Mary’s punched some early holes in the hosts’ defence before they were awarded a 35-meter penalty, which out-half Lynch was able to smack through the uprights.
With defences on top for most of the first half, scoring chances were at a premium and it took a sublime piece of play from Hurley to open Con’s account just before the interval.
Making it look so simple, the full-back came up into the line and weaved his way past three Mary’s defenders before crossing close to the posts.
Lyons, who was deputising for Jeremy Manning, added the extras to put four points between the sides.
With the breeze favouring neither team, play was kept largely between the 22s but just when it looked like Mary’s were living with the table-toppers, up popped Horgan on a great line to take a pass from Lyons and ghost over to the left of the posts.
Lyons converted for a 14-3 Con lead and a Mary’s back-line that contained Jonathan Sexton’s younger brother Mark, could only look on as the lively Hurley completed his brace soon after.
In the fourth-minute of injury-time, the Dubliners were rewarded for some late endeavour when young back rower Copeland spotted a gap and went over from close range. But there was no denying Con as they beat Mary’s for the sixth successive time in the league.
Cork Constitution: Tries: Denis Hurley 2, Anthony Horgan; Cons: Daragh Lyons 2
St Mary’s College: Try: Robin Copeland; Pen: Frank Lynch
HT: Cork Constitution 7-3 St Mary’s College
Shannon 27-12 Terenure College
Shannon closed the gap on Division One leaders Cork Constitution to a single point as they scored a bonus-point victory over Terenure College at Coonagh on Saturday.
Experienced centre Andrew Thompson was to the fore for Shannon as he scored two tries, two conversions and a penalty to take his tally for the league season to 99 points.
Mick Galwey’s side led 17-0 at the break having had the benefit of the wind at their backs. Thompson touched down after 29 and 38 minutes to give Terenure a mountain to climb.
Tries from Padraig O’Brien and David Quinlan, with busy Munster winger Ian Dowling involved in both, saw Shannon ease home although ‘Nure did cross the whitewash twice through Brian Moroney and Graham Coffey.
Playing with a strong wind at their backs, Shannon gained an early advantage although both sides had a player sent to the sin-bin in the opening ten minutes.
‘Nure lock Kieran O’Dwyer saw yellow for punching and Shannon’s Killian O’Neill was picked out for stamping.
Thompson opened the scoring in the 13th-minute with a well-struck penalty and he followed up with a try some 16 minutes later.
Sean Cronin, who has agreed to join Connacht for next season, burst through the Dubliners’ cover defence, full-back Andrew Finn cut through on a lovely angle and he offloaded in time for Thompson to go over.
The Laois man added the conversion but ‘Nure were very close to a try of their own shortly before half-time, only for an untimely knock to spoil what was a very promising attack.
Shannon edged closer to the tenth home win in-a-row in the league when they scored arguably their try of the season.
It was an excellent team effort as Colm McMahon made the initial break, Stephen Kelly and Cronin both put in carries before prop Kevin Griffin offloaded well for young out-half Joey Moran to continue the attack.
He found John Cloghan in space and he put his centre partner Thompson haring over for a score which he converted himself for 17-0.
Shannon started the second half like a steam train as lock O’Brien touched down.
The lead-up again contained some notable contributions with Dowling, playing in his first league game for Shannon this season, linking with Thompson on the right and Cronin again made ground before O’Brien, who was up in support, crashed over.
The conversion was missed and then ‘Nure had a spell of dominance coming up to the hour mark.
Irish Colleges flanker Moroney scored in the 48th-minute after a long spell of possession for the visitors in the Shannon 22.
Ten minutes later, centre Coffey intercepted a pass and ran over close to the posts for Robbie McCarthy to convert and whittle Shannon’s lead down to 22-12.
Kevin West’s side certainly made a game of it and Shannon were not out of the woods until the 77th-minute when, after a patient build-up which involved Dowling and Finn, a case of numbers out wide on the right led to number 8 Quinlan nabbing the crucial bonus point try.
Shannon: Tries: Andrew Thompson 2, Padraig O’Brien, David Quinlan; Cons: Andrew Thompson 2; Pen: Andrew Thompson
Terenure College: Tries: Brian Moroney, Graham Coffey; Con: Robbie McCarthy
HT: Shannon 17 Terenure College 0
Lansdowne 5-11 Garryowen
Lowly Lansdowne gave Garryowen quite a fright at the RDS before the defending champions pulled clear to maintain their unbeaten away record in this season’s league.
A try from Ireland Under-20 winger David Kearney in first-half injury-time saw Lansdowne trailing by 6-5 at half-time, after Garryowen full-back Conor Kilroy has succeeded with penalties after 2 and 24 minutes.
However, Lansdowne lacked the necessary cutting edge in attack and Ireland ‘A’ international Keith Earls showed a good turn of pace to pick off an unconverted try – the second half’s only score – and kept his side well in the play-off picture.
Garryowen beat Lansdowne 23-5 at this venue in the AIB Cup last October but the Dubliners played much better today, with their lineout and scrum, in particular, troubling the Limerick men.
Garryowen could call on the likes of Earls, Gerry Hurley and Damien Varley, who played in last week’s AIB Club international against Scotland, while Lansdowne were able to include two of their current Ireland Under-20 internationals – try scorer Kearney and centre Eamonn Sheridan.
Kilroy punished an early ruck misdemeanour to push Garryowen in front and the former Blackrock College clubman followed that up with a thumping kick from just inside his half for his second penalty success.
Garryowen’s back-line purred at times but a combination of misplaced passes and bad decision-making meant the visitors saw the first half out try-less.
They had not bargained on Kearney, the younger brother of Leinster and Ireland star Rob, getting over in injury-time for a try that had the Dublin 4 outfit very much in contention.
The teenager did particularly well to squeeze over in the left corner under pressure from Earls and Alan Kingsley.
The try came just six minutes after Garryowen had lost prop Rory Brosnan to the sin-bin for killing the ball, but that was the only yellow card of a game played in good spirits.
The second half was a dour affair until Earls lit the touch paper for Garryowen’s seventh straight league win over Lansdowne. He found space out on the left and evaded his marker to cross in the corner.
Kilroy missed the conversion but Garryowen’s gritty defence allowed them to hold out and maintain their run in third place in the table.
Lansdowne: Try: David Kearney
Garryowen: Try: Keith Earls; Pens: Conor Kilroy 2.
Clontarf 27-18 Greystones
A late pushover try from Phil Purdue was required as Clontarf kept hold of fourth place in Division One by seeing off a stubborn Greystones side at Castle Avenue this afternoon.
Ian Keatley grabbed a converted try to add to an earlier penalty as ‘Tarf turned around with a 10-6 buffer, with Keatley’s Leinster Academy colleague James Power booting two penalties for the visitors.
Five more points from Keatley and a Chris Elvin try kept the hosts ahead but only just as ‘Stones worked Ronan Carroll and David McKechnie over for tries, before Purdue had the final say.
Beaten 36-7 by Cork Constitution last time out, Clontarf were once again disappointing but they did just enough to claim their fourth win in seven home matches in the league this term.
Andy Wood’s side, hoping to keep up the club’s proud record of reaching the play-offs, scored at crucial periods in this all-Leinster encounter. Keatley’s try before half-time, which saw him link well with his former Ireland Under-20 colleague Paul O’Donohoe, was really the catalyst for this win.
‘Stones, whose pack include current Ireland Under-20 hooker Jason Harris-Wright and talismanic stand-in skipper Stuart Abbott, kept plugging away and reduced the gap to a more manageable 10-6 when Power pinged over his second penalty of the afternoon.
Matters improved further for the County Wicklow men on the restart when winger Carroll shrugged off a tackle from Niall O’Brien to score in the corner and make it 11-10 in the visitors’ favour.
By this stage, Leinster and Ireland ‘A’ prop Cian Healy had entered the fray but he was almost immediately sin-binned as referee Peter Fitzgibbon clearly saw him knee his direct opponent at a scrum.
It crowned a forgettable weekend for the young ‘Tarf clubman as he was also yellow carded in Leinster’s Magners League win over Connacht last night.
With their numerical advantage and half-backs Power and Cillian Willis eager to run, ‘Stones tried to swarm forward at every opportunity but ‘Tarf showed the better control in defence and attack and Keatley kicked them back into the lead.
Kiwi flanker Elvin then barged his way over from close range for a seven-pointer which perhaps put a flattering gloss on the score-line – 20-11 – given the work-rate of the visitors.
‘Stones did set up a grandstand finish when AIB Club international McKechnie sped up into the line and touched down for his fourth try of the campaign.
That score brought about a milestone in itself in that it helped Greystones become the first AIB League club to top 5000 points in the history of the competition.
Quite an achievement but that was soon forgotten when ‘Tarf’s bigger forwards made the hard yards in injury-time and number 8 Purdue crashed over under a pile of bodies for the clinching score.
Clontarf: Tries: Ian Keatley, Chris Elvin, Phil Purdue; Cons: Ian Keatley 3; Pens: Ian Keatley 2
Greystones: Tries: Ronan Carroll, David McKechnie; Con: James Power; Pens: James Power 2
HT: Clontarf 10 Greystones 6
Dolphin 19-12 Dungannon
The place-kicking accuracy of AIB Club international Barry Keeshan steered Dolphin past a dangerous Dungannon side at Musgrave Park.
Backed by the wind, number 10 Keeshan landed four penalties after 2, 13, 30 and 40 minutes to hand Dolphin a 12-0 lead to take into the second half.
‘Gannon lost second row Martin Boyd to a yellow card shortly before half-time and they went further behind when replacement hooker Andrew O’Driscoll dotted down for Dolphin.
Ulster flanker David Pollock did grab a brace of tries in reply but the Corkmen held firm to remain fifth in the table.
Pollock was one of a few notable inclusions in the visitors’ starting line-up.
With Ulster playing last night in the Magners League, scrum half Kieran Campbell and hooker Nigel Brady were brought into the ‘Gannon side, while Munster’s match away to the Cardiff Blues today robbed Dolphin of the services of James Coughlan and Tomas O’Leary.
This was a tough, uncompromising game dominated by the forward exchanges. ‘Gannon were punished at will by Keeshan’s excellent left boot and in the end, that was the difference between the sides as Dolphin secured their fourth league win on the trot.
Keeshan was putting his mark on the game as early as the second-minute and three further penalty successes came before O’Driscoll powered his way over from five metres out after a lineout drive and series of close-range rucks.
That completed Dolphin’s scoring for the afternoon and although they spent much of the closing quarter on the defensive, their lead never looked like being troubled.
However, Pollock, the Ireland Under-20s’ successful captain from last season, did punch his way through a couple of tacklers to make the line just past the hour mark. Richard McCarter converted to make it 19-7.
The following 15 minutes saw ‘Gannon keep play inside the Dolphin 22 but the home side’s defence was particularly disciplined during this spell and the visitors’ forwards were held up over the try line on three separate occasions.
Finally, Pollock claimed his second try, five minutes from the finish, with a little help from his back row colleague Thomas Anderson.
Although, there were some encouraging signs for John Andrews’ side, they remain rooted to the bottom of the table and desperately need a win at home to UL Bohemians next Saturday.
Dolphin: Try: Andrew O’Driscoll; Con: Barry Keeshan; Pens: Barry Keeshan 4
Dungannon: Tries: David Pollock 2; Con: Richard McCarter
Blackrock College 29-38 UCD
UCD’s play-off challenge gathered pace at Stradbrook this afternoon as they ran in four tries for a fine victory over their south Dublin rivals Blackrock College.
UCD made the most of a first half wind advantage to race into a 19-0 interval lead with four penalties from Killian Lett (3) and Andrew Cummiskey being followed up by an injury-time try from the latter.
The students made the game safe by the hour mark with touchdowns from wingers Vasily Artemiev and Cian Aherne, although late tries from David Madigan, Alan Henry, Fionn Carr and Des Dillon saw ‘Rock rally and gain a try-scoring bonus point.
UCD’s decision to play with the elements at their backs paid off, although they did take their time about breaking through Blackrock’s stubborn defence.
A ‘Rock pack that included former Leinster duo Dillon and Shane Byrne gnarled away at the visitors in the opening stages and a sole seventh-minute penalty from Lett proved to be the only score of an entertaining first quarter.
The 21-year-old Lett then had ten minutes in the sin-bin, during which his centre partner Cummiskey took on the kicking duties and he planted a 22nd-minute penalty through the uprights to extend UCD’s lead.
It was more of the same as ‘Rock’s pack gave away some costless penalties as the half wore on and Lett returned to land two successful penalties after 30 and 37 minutes.
With Blackrock losing their tighthead prop Royce Burke Flynn to a yellow card, the icing on the cake for ‘College arrived in injury-time when an expansive back-line move, with Lett and captain Michael Hastings heavily involved, ended with Cummiskey dotting down.
Lett converted to leave ‘Rock trailing by more than two converted tries and it looked like the students were well on course to gain revenge for their 33-7 AIB Cup defeat to the same opposition at Stradbrook a month ago.
Although ‘Rock full-back Fionn Carr did open his side’s account with a 43rd-minute penalty, there then followed an avalanche of UCD points as Lett (52 minutes) and Artemiev (57) both ran in converted tries before pacy winger Aherne got his name on the scoresheet in the 65th-minute.
Artemiev’s try was perhaps the best of the match as the Russian-born winger broke past two covering players to score, while Aherne, the former Crescent College pupil, was notably scoring his seventh try of the league campaign.
Predictably enough, this young UCD side then fell off the boil and ‘Rock came more and more into the game. Helped by the introduction of replacement scrum-half Madigan, who came on for Ireland Under-20 international David Moore, the hosts sparked into life.
Madigan sniped over for their first time, nine minutes from time. Winger Henry followed suit as he got in on the end of a fantastic 72nd-minute move which started in the ‘Rock half.
Carr’s conversion cut the gap to 38-17 and the full-back himself was next to go over. Second row Dillon secured the bonus point for his side, a minute into injury-time, with Carr’s conversion bringing his points haul for the league season to a handsome 120 points.
Blackrock College: Tries: David Madigan, Alan Henry, Fionn Carr, Des Dillon; Cons: Fionn Carr 3; Pen: Fionn Carr
UCD: Tries: Andrew Cummiskey, Killian Lett, Vasily Artemiev, Cian Aherne; Cons: Killian Lett 3; Pens: Killian Lett 3, Andrew Cummiskey.
UL Bohemians 11-15 Ballymena
Ballymena ended a run of five straight league defeats as they got the better of UL Bohemians at the UL Bowl.
Bohs’ Aidan McNulty kicked an early penalty but the wind-backed Braidmen soon clicked into gear with Paul Campbell and Craig Woods both touching down.
Woods also kicked a penalty and a conversion as Jacques Benade’s men took a 15-3 lead into half-time.
Flanker Tommy O’Donnell grabbed his fourth try of the campaign for Bohs and McNulty kicked a second penalty but the visitors ran out deserved winners.
UL Bohemians: Try: Tommy O’Donnell; Pens: Aidan McNulty 2
Ballymena: Tries: Paul Campbell, Craig Woods; Con: Craig Woods; Pen: Craig Woods
HT: UL Bohemians 3 Ballymena 15
Old Belvedere 24-26 Galwegians
Old Belvedere had to settle for a losing bonus point at home to Galwegians this afternoon.
When winger Kevin Barden ran in his try at Anglesea Road, the gap was down to 26-24 but Richie Murphy missed the difficult conversion.
Connacht’s Liam Bibo kicked two penalties as ‘Wegians led 6-0 at half-time.
Bibo finished with a 16-point tally, adding to tries from Ian Cullinane and Alipate Tuilevuka. Belvo were level at 13-13 thanks to a Tim Jago try but the men from the west took the spoils.
Old Belvedere: Tries: Tim Jago, Kevin Barden; Con: Richie Murphy; Pens: Richie Murphy 4
Galwegians: Tries: Ian Cullinane, Alipate Tuilevuka; Cons: Liam Bibo 2; Pens: Liam Bibo 4
HT: Old Belvedere 0-6 Galwegians