Defending champions Leinster made it two wins out of two in this year’s IRFU Junior Interprovincial Championship as an injury-time try and conversion from Gearoid O’Grady gave them a dramatic win over Connacht. Meanwhile, Munster suffered their second defeat in the space of a week as Ulster came out on top in Lisburn.
2008/09 IRFU JUNIOR INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, May 2
ROUND 2 –
Ulster 20 Munster 9, Lisburn RFC
Leinster 20 Connacht 18, Navan RFC
After shocking Ulster in last weekend’s opening round, the Seamus King and Eddie Walsh-coached Connacht ventured to Navan on Saturday hoping to hand title holders Leinster their first defeat in this competition since 2007.
And they almost did. It took a late try and conversion from Tullamore ace Gearoid O’Grady to see Leinster continue their winning run.
The champions can count themselves rather fortunate as Connacht were the better side for long spells and their play deserved more than 18 points.
But Leinster, with their forwards matching Connacht’s spirit up front, hung on in there and overhauled the visitors right at the death.
Connacht got off to a terrific start, scoring two early tries to stun the hosts.
The Leinster defence was stretched, with the Connacht backs stringing together a fine passing movement, and full-back and team captain Kevin Higgins sent big winger Kevin Corcoran hurtling over from 20 metres out.
The conversion from the touchline was missed, as was the next kick after winger Danny O’Toole, a Westport clubman like Corcoran, darted over to score out wide.
O’Toole’s effort was as much about the build-up. Again, Connacht skipper Higgins was to the fore as he sent up a garryowen and managed to regather it before coolly passing for O’Toole to romp home.
It was then Leinster’s turn to counter and they succeeded in getting back level for half-time, at 10-10.
Full-back Karl Manning from Navan began to make headway with ball-in-hand and he was a constant threat to the Connacht defence.
O’Grady landed a penalty for Leinster’s opening points and then Connacht were caught out when the hosts turned a quick tap penalty into a try for Railway Union winger Kevin O’Brien. O’Grady’s conversion squared things up.
Territory was Leinster’s on the resumption and although Connacht’s tackling was heroic, with Eoin Rooney and Liam Scahill on top form in that regard, O’Grady popped over his second penalty for Leinster to take the lead.
You could hardly take your eyes off the action as Connacht wasted little time in hitting back at the home side.
Outside centre Dave Prior from OLBC thumped an excellent drop goal through the uprights, after a well-worked lineout move had set up the chance.
Connacht had the bit between their teeth as they continued to put pressure on the champions.
When Leinster coughed up possession with a dropped ball, they pounced. Out-half Ger O’Connor was on hand to scoop it up, dummy his way into space and pass for replacement Tomas Lee from Corrib to notch the visitors’ third unconverted try.
Unfortunately, for all the visitors’ hard work and commitment, this end-to-end game had another twist in it.
Deep into injury-time, O’Grady, a former Buccaneers player, denied Connacht a famous win as he finished off a rapier-like thrust and nervelessly added the conversion to maintain Leinster’s 100% record.
Meanwhile, at Lisburn RFC on Saturday, Ulster bounced back from last week’s defeat in Ballyhaunis to record a 20-9 victory over Munster.
Eamon Ronan kicked three penalty goals for the visitors, who are now out of title contention, but converted tries from Johnny Allen and Josh Lewis saw Ulster take control in the second half.
In front of a large and vocal Ulster support, Ronan from the Cobh Pirates club landed a hat-trick of kicks to give his side a 9-6 advantage at the break.
However, it was all Ulster in the third quarter and Armagh’s Allen showed his class as he went on a 25-metre sprint to touch down close to the posts, allowing his club-mate Johnny Steenson an easier conversion.
Munster could not hold out as a second Ulster try, scored by City of Derry clubman Lewis, stretched the hosts’ lead to a match-winning 11 points. Steenson’s second successful conversion took his personal tally to 10 points.
The second round results have set up a nail-biting climax to the 2008/09 IRFU Junior Interprovincial Championship.
Leinster currently top the table on eight points, with Connacht and Ulster close behind them on five points each.
That means three provinces still stand a chance of winning the Interpro title heading into the final weekend of matches.
Home advantage could be crucial for Leinster as they entertain Ulster, while Connacht will be chasing their second win of the competition at home to Munster.