Two of Division 1A’s form teams chased their third wins on the trot and in the end, Young Munster came out on top as Ballynahinch lost 29-20 at Tom Clifford Park this afternoon.
Young Munster have been reliant on goal-kicking full-back Ben Martin for scores in recent weeks, but they racked up four tries against ‘Hinch for a deserved bonus point.
It could be a season-defining result for John Staunton’s Cookies as they are now third in the table, with their latest Ulster Bank League victory seeing them leapfrog over five clubs including defending champions Clontarf.
Back on home soil after winning at Cork Constitution last week, the Limerick side set a cracking pace and dominated the early exchanges. A strong scrum – with Munster development prop Martin Kelly making his first start of the campaign – led to Gearoid Lyons booting them in front.
The Young Munster pack continued to dictate matters as a 23rd minute rolling maul set up hooker Ger Slattery for the game’s opening try, which centre Lyons converted for 10-0.
Winger Steve Macauley hit back with a well-worked converted try, scoring against his former club, but barely four minutes later the hosts were celebrating again – Ed O’Keeffe finished smartly in the corner from a move that saw several players get their hands on the ball. Lyons’ conversion attempt came back off the woodwork.
The nip and tuck nature of the game was evident when Ballynahinch, with their confidence high from wins over Lansdowne and St. Mary’s, scored eight unanswered points before the break to get back level at 15-all.
The Cookies’ defence gave way as full-back Steven Honey touched down and centre Richard Reaney notched a late penalty to tie things up. However, Staunton’s side recovered well to take control of the third quarter, aided by a terrific try from out-half Willie Staunton, which Lyons converted.
A couple of sin-binnings really hurt ‘Hinch and Young Munster’s well-drilled forwards made them pay with a penalty try following a series of scrums. Lyons added the extras to the bonus point score, making it 29-15.
The County Down outfit gained some late consolation with an injury-time from flanker Michael Graham, but the lack of a conversion saw them miss out on a losing bonus point.
Meanwhile, in Division 1B, eight points from the boot of out-half Jack McDermott proved key at College Park as Dublin University withstood a late charge from Shannon to secure their third straight victory of the campaign (13-7).
Heavy rainfall in central Dublin made life difficult for both teams, but Trinity got off to a positive start. Following an indiscretion by Shannon five minutes in, McDermott stepped forward to calmly slot home a 30-metre penalty.
When you consider the weather conditions, it was clear that every score would be hugely important Shannon responded to the concession of McDermott’s penalty by forcing the hosts on the back foot with some strong kicks from distance.
Indeed, full-back David O’Donovan was presented with an ideal opportunity to restore parity three minutes later. However, his kick from distance was narrowly wide of the mark.
Former Clongowes Wood College star Sebastian Fromm, a native of Germany, and McDermott were threatening to break through the Shannon defence as the action moved into the second quarter.
O’Donovan drifted a penalty from a left hand angle past the far post and he was left to rue this miss on 28 minutes when Trinity finally breached the opposition line. A neat lay-off from McDermott brought Conor Kearns into the play and after finding a gap inside the Shannon 22, the centre’s momentum helped him to crash over the line.
McDermott’s successful conversion saw Tony Smeeth’s youngsters take a 10-0 lead into the second period. The only downside for the students was the 38th minute sin-binning of number 8 Nick McCarthy. When he returned to the fray, though, Shannon were still scoreless.
In fact, try-scoring opportunities were at a premium for much of the half. Shannon hooker Liam Cronin was held up close to the whitewash afer almost breaking through just past the hour mark.
Replacement scrum half Jack Cullen also went close as Shannon started to increase the pressure. Just when the Trinity defence appeared to be impenetrable, flanker Hugh Kelliher touched down for the visitors seven minutes from time.
This finished off a long period of territorial dominance for Shannon and with O’Donovan comfortably adding the extras, it set up a tense finale.
McDermott’s 79th-minute penalty settled Trinity back down, though, and despite the best efforts of Munster’s Luke O’Dea and Stephen Fitzgerald in the dying moments, Shannon came up short once again.
Elsewhere in the division, Ballymena’s five-match winning run was ended by a 13-7 defeat to Malone in a hard-fought Ulster derby at Eaton Park, and in the process the Braidmen lost top spot to Galwegians.
The sides swapped tries in the second half with Ballymena winger James Beattie and Malone lock Cory Tipping both scoring converted efforts.
But key to the Cregagh Red Sox’s second successive league triumph was an eight-point kicking contribution from centre Josh Pentland, who booted two first half penalties to set them on their way.
Buccaneers put their indifferent recent form behind them with a rewarding 20-7 triumph away to Belfast Harlequins. The Pirates ended a two-match losing streak at Deramore Park, opening with a significant 17-0 half-time lead thanks to prop Jacob Walshe’s try and four Alan Gaughan penalties.
‘Quins, who beat Shannon last week, closed the gap to 10 points with a converted try from out-half Mark Best. However, Buccs made certain of the points when young replacement Ross Keller clipped over a 75th minute penalty.