High-flying UCC and Lansdowne are both within touching distance of Division One rugby following their latest league wins. Ballynahinch, who have a game in hand, are still in promotion contention however, and Instonians, losers at ‘Hinch on Saturday, have gone straight back down to Division Three.
UCC and Lansdowne both scored their 12th wins of the league campaign, with the pace-setting Cork students digging deep to see off Thomond 16-10 and Lansdowne had 22 points to spare at home to Malone.
Thomond, fighting for their Division Two status, stunned UCC when they broke through for a try in first half injury-time at the Mardyke.
Outside centre Warren Kelly beat the cover to cross in under the posts, with out-half Declan Cusack converting for a 7-3 interval lead for the Limerick side.
In windy but dry conditions, UCC had opened the scoring with Gavin Dunne’s 14th-minute penalty and they made a strong start to the second half when former Ireland Under-19 and Under-20 lock Ian Nagle touched down in the left corner after a series of pick-and-goes.
The conversion was missed but UCC ploughed on and on 65 minutes, Nagle’s second row partner Neilus Keogh, brother of Leinster back rower Stephen Keogh, claimed a try after a well-executed rolling maul.
Dunne missed the conversion but managed to add a penalty, and Thomond still took something out of the game – a losing bonus point – thanks to a late Cusack penalty.
Lansdowne showed an impressive hunger to attack as they outscored Malone by five tries to two in the sides’ encounter at the RDS.
Malone, buoyed by their recent win over Belfast Harlequins, were able to include Ulster players Jarleth Carey and Mark McCrea in their side and they were well in touch at half-time, only trailing by 13-7.
Lansdowne raced out of the traps and after punching early holes in the visitors’ defence, scrum half Matthew Healy scored in the corner in the third minute and winger Charl Oosthuizen added the conversion for good measure.
Five minutes later, McCrea burst into space for Malone and he brilliantly drew the tackler before offloading for Michael Barker to score under the posts, with Chris Rowan’s conversion levelling the tie.
However, the Belfast side suffered two considerable blows before half-time when Rowan missed a kickable penalty and number 8 Ryan Wilson saw yellow on 32 minutes. In between, South African Oosthuizen kicked two penalties.
Second half tries from Oosthuizen, big centre Eamonn Sheridan and Healy saw Lansdowne doggedly push for a bonus point, which they did not gain until the seventh minute of injury-time. Wilson nabbed a consolation try with a well-taken 75th-minute score.
With their Easter Monday clash with Highfield called off, Ballynahinch were left ruing their failure to net a bonus point in their 25-12 triumph over Instonians on Saturday.
The AIB Cup champions, third in the table and eight points behind the top two, counted on tries from Jonny Cullen (2) and Nevin Spence.
‘Hinch will really need two bonus point wins in their final two games if they are to challenge for promotion.
But for bottom side ‘Inst, who initially kept in touch through the boot of Johnny Watt, almost twelve months after their play-off victory over Bruff they face the dreaded drop.
Three clubs – Old Crescent, Bruff and Dublin University – could still claim the fourth and final spot in the play-offs.
Crescent went down 15-12 to Highfield in a surprise home defeat. Brian O’Shea landed four penalties for the Limerick men but tries from Anthony McGettigan and David O’Hea, along with a conversion and penalty from Nick Wakley, saw Highfield finish on top.
Fifth-placed Bruff are just two points behind Crescent, heading into the final round, following their gutsy 23-20 win over Clonakilty at Kilballyowen Park.
Eoin Cahill’s determined team had to do it the hard way. They were 14-10 behind at half-time, after converted tries for Clon from Noel O’Sullivan (7 minutes) and Leonard Harte (40).
A chip-and-chase effort from Bruff full-back Paul O’Brien, allied to a conversion and penalty from Brian Cahill, had Bruff in double figures.
Penalties from David Lombard, the instigator of O’Sullivan’s try, had the Cork side leading 17-10 and then 20-15. In between, Andrew Cashman scored his first league try for Bruff.
And the hosts managed to up the tempo in the closing stages, chasing their third try and roared on by the home faithful.
Cahill’s men achieved their aim when, after a number of forward phases, captain Cathal O’Regan burrowed over for a five-pointer and Brian Cahill pinged over a late penalty to give his side the win. The losing bonus point has Clon safe and away from relegation trouble.
Meanwhile, Dublin University put five tries past Belfast Harlequins for an impressive 34-13 victory at Deramore Park, with the students remaining in the hunt for a semi-final berth.
Trinity captain Scott Young was amongst the try scorers, along with Eddie Molloy, Brian Coyle, Tim McCoy and Eddie Hamilton. Out-half Richard Brady kicked 9 points (three conversions and a penalty).
While Harlequins still have some work to do to avoid relegation, De La Salle Palmerston secured their Division Two status for another season with a 29-26 win at fellow strugglers Wanderers.
Wanderers, second-from-bottom and facing an all-important final game away to Highfield, had impressive displays from the two-try Paul Ryan and out-half David Fitzgerald, who kicked 16 points in all, including two drop goals.
But DLSP did serious damage with Conor Power Snr, Carl De Chenu, Ken Copeland and former Gorey hooker Raphael Kwiakowloski all raiding forward for tries.
At Donnybrook, Greystones were outscored by three tries to two by Bective Rangers but the Wicklow men pulled through on a 29-23 scoreline thanks to a 19-point kicking contribution from Leinster ‘A’ out-half James Power.
Power kicked five penalties and converted tries from John Breslin and Sean Carroll for the victorious ‘Stones, while Mike Summerell, Dan Whitehead and Tommy Sheehy touched down for Bective.
The victory saw Greystones retain the Kieran Murphy trophy. Kieran was a very active member of Greystones before he went to Bective where he was a very valuable member both on and off the field.
Following his sudden death in the summer of 1997, the two Leinster clubs combined in presenting a trophy in his memory which is contested each year between the two.
AIB LEAGUE DIVISION TWO RESULTS: Saturday, April 11
Ballynahinch 25 Instonians 12, Ballymacarn Park
Bective Rangers 23 Greystones 29, Donnybrook
Belfast Harlequins 13 Dublin University 34, Deramore Park
Bruff 23 Clonakilty 20, Kilballyowen Park
Lansdowne 34 Malone 12, The RDS
Old Crescent 12 Highfield 15, Rosbrien
UCC 16 Thomond 10, The Mardyke
Wanderers 26 De La Salle Palmerston 29, Merrion Road
Ballynahinch v Highfield, Ballymacarn Park (Monday, April 13) (Match postponed)