UCD will take in the Christmas break as Ulster Bank League Division 1A leaders after maintaining their winning form with a 20-12 defeat of Old Belvedere this afternoon.
In their final league game of the calendar year, UCD had the benefit of a very strong wind at the Belfield Bowl and duly swept into a 15-0 interval lead. From a five-metre scrum on the quarter hour, the ball was moved wide for winger Tom Fletcher to squeeze over in the left corner.
Leinster’s Ross Byrne missed the conversion and a tricky penalty in the 33rd minute, but UCD enjoyed a productive spell approaching half-time. A lineout maul was finished off by former Ireland Under-20 prop Jeremy Loughman, and Byrne tagged on the conversion and a superb penalty from the 10-metre line.
Classy full-back Daniel Riordan, captaining Old Belvedere in Jonathan Slattery’s absence, threatened early on the resumption, yet UCD played well facing into the elements, with Byrne’s audacious cross-field kick almost finding Hugo Keenan.
UCD were unable to capitalise on a yellow card for ‘Belvo lock Jack Kelly and it was not until the 63rd minute that flanker Peadar Timmins (pictured below) forced his way over following a succession of five-metre scrums.
College’s sixth league win looked assured, but ‘Belvo bounced back with two closing tries – the ever-influential Riordan struck in superb fashion in the 74th minute and a prolonged spell of pressure yielded a score for Kelly. However, the latter conversion was missed by Aidan Wynne, meaning Paul Cunningham’s men missed out on a losing bonus point. The teams meet again in the Leinster Senior League Cup final in two weeks’ time.
UCD and Clontarf are locked together on 31 points at the top of the table, with an eight-point gap between them and third-placed ‘Belvo. ‘Tarf picked up only their second try-scoring bonus point of the campaign with a 39-25 victory over Garryowen.
The north Dubliners’ new all-weather pitch showed its worth on a day when Storm Desmond claimed eight league fixtures around the country, including two top flight games – Cork Constitution v Terenure College and Young Munster v Galwegians.
Leinster winger Mick McGrath was in dominant form for ‘Tarf, helping himself to a hat-trick of tries with fellow backs Conor O’Brien and Dermot O’Meara also touching down.
A terrific individual score from young centre O’Brien was added to by the bulldozing McGrath to give the hosts a 15-8 half-time advantage, cancelling out an earlier try from Garryowen winger James McInerney (pictured above).
McGrath and Munster Academy recruit Conor Oliver swapped tries before the former followed up on an excellent Evan Ryan break to complete his hat-trick and secure Clontarf’s bonus point at 29-15.
The Light Blues produced a strong finish, though, battling their way to a try-scoring bonus point as replacement Ronan O’Halloran and impressive scrum half Neil Cronin both crossed the whitewash. In between, ‘Tarf gave themselves enough of a cushion thanks to O’Meara’s seven-pointer and a penalty from his half-back partner Joey Carbery (pictured below), who kicked 14 points to take his season’s tally to 93.
Struggling Ballynahinch threw off the shackles at a windswept Ballymacarn Park to claim their very first win of the league run – a deserved 25-13 triumph over defending champions Lansdowne.
The division’s bottom side gave themselves a very timely boost after eight defeats on the trot, with a late first half try from loosehead Craig Trenier lighting the touchpaper for a rousing final 40 minutes.
Lansdowne still led 6-5 at the turnaround thanks to two Scott Deasy penalties, but their hopes of retaining the title took a serious dent as they slipped to a fourth loss in six games.
A Chris Quinn penalty edged ‘Hinch in front on the resumption, with tighthead Jonny Simpson soon joining Trenier on the scoresheet courtesy of another powerful set of phases from the home pack.
Quinn converted and tagged on a second successful penalty, before a try from Ireland Under-19 back rower Max Deegan, which Deasy converted, brought it back to 18-13. In what could prove to be a season-defining moment, ‘Hinch’s Ulster scrum half Paul Rowley pounced for the clinching try to give Derek Suffern’s side a long-awaited maiden victory.