Ulster are the early pacesetters in the IRFU Junior Interprovincial Championship, having opened their campaign with a well-judged 20-3 win over reigning champions Munster at Randalstown RFC last Saturday.
2016/17 IRFU JUNIOR INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, April 29
ROUND 1 –
ULSTER 20 MUNSTER 3, Randalstown RFC
Scorers: Ulster: Tries: Mitchell McComb, Josh Christie; Cons: Allen McCluggage 2; Pens: Allen McCluggage 2
Munster: Pen: John Lillis
HT: Ulster 7 Munster 3
For new Ulster Junior head coach Richard Boyd and his assistants Robert Ford and Michael Ferguson, six weeks of intensive preparation had their young charges primed to face title holders Munster who are traditionally renowned for their abrasive and physical style of rugby.
Led by captain Chris Nash, the Ulster forwards imposed themselves on the visitors in the first quarter at Randalstown RFC, with the lineout working well thanks to the efforts of Coleraine forwards Josh Christie and Brian Hughes.
The large crowd had to wait 28 minutes for the first points of the game. Scrum half Allen McCluggage was aware of the space in behind the Munster defence, his kick turned their cover and Grosvenor winger Mitchell McComb showed his football skills and pace to touch down for an excellent try. McCluggage converted to give Ulster a well-deserved 7-0 lead.
Boyd made use of his bench by introducing forwards Alan Ferguson, Toby Mannus and Jason Gilliland as the home pack continued to dominate their Munster counterparts. But Munster responded when out-half John Lillis landed one of two penalty attempts to close the gap to 7-3.
Ulster centre Mike Poskitt was off target with a difficult penalty attempt on the stroke of the half-time, and despite a swirling wind, the conditions appeared to favour the Ulstermen as the second period got underway.
It was a case of Boyd’s side gaining the initiative early in the half, with the assured McCluggage kicking two penalties to increase his team’s lead to 13-3 after 50 minutes. The Ulster back row of Hughes, Andy McKeen and the formidable Andrew Kelly at number 8, was getting through an enormous amount of work both in defence and attack.
With just minutes remaining, Ulster got their reward when second row Christie showed his athleticism to brush aside Munster centre Eoin O’Dwyer and storm in from the 22-metre line for a well-deserved try. Grosvenor clubman McCluggage added the extras to leave the final score reading 20-3.
ULSTER: Philip Cartmill (Cooke); Robert Baloucoune (Enniskillen), Mikey Poskitt (Coleraine), Calum Irvine (CIYMS), Mitchell McComb (Grosvenor); Bokkie Carstens (Coleraine), Allen McCluggage (Grosvenor); Chris Nash (Coleraine) (capt), Alan Whitely (CIYMS), Gary Hume (Randalstown), Josh Christie (Coleraine), Michael Ferguson (Coleraine), Brian Hughes (Coleraine), Andy McKeen (Carrickfergus), Andrew Kelly (Grosvenor).
Replacements: Adam McDonald (Dromore), Alan Ferguson (Enniskillen), David Greatorex (Coleraine), Toby Mannus (Cooke), Jason Gilliland (CIYMS), Matthew Cahoon (Grosvenor), Grant Bartley (Ballyclare), Martin Connolly (Randalstown), Ryan Garrett (Larne), David Scott (Instonians), Robert Smith (Ballyclare).
MUNSTER: Derry O’Connor (Abbeyfeale); Scott Hornibrook (Waterpark), Eoin O’Dwyer (Thurles), Tom O’Callaghan (Mitchelstown), Dan Horgan (Muskerry); John Lillis (Thurles), Nicky Irwin (Thurles); Robert Brockhert (St. Mary’s), Mike Cronin (Castleisland), Rory Hannon (Waterpark), Kevin Phelan (Waterpark), Brendan Childs (Galbally), David O’Donoghue (Waterpark) (capt), Aidan Ware (Old Christians), Kieran Downey (Castleisland).
Replacements: Tom Doyle (Kilfeacle), PJ O’Connor (Charleville), Pa Ryan (St. Senan’s), Kevin Kinnane (Kilfeacle), Brian McLoughlin (Kilfeacle), Brian Collins (St. Senan’s), Sean Herlihy (Newcastlewest), Aidan O’Dwyer (Thurles), Luke Kelly (Thurles).
LEINSTER 15 CONNACHT 14, Newbridge RFC
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Liam Caddy, Ivan Jacob; Con: Ian Burke; Pen: Ian Burke
Connacht: Tries: Matthew Mannion 2; Cons: Matthew Mannion 2
HT: Leinster 7 Connacht 14
In the Bank Holiday weekend’s other first round fixture, Leinster edged out Connacht 15-14 thanks to DLSP scrum half Ian Burke’s coolly-struck late penalty at Newbridge RFC.
In the early stages of the game, Connacht totally dominated the set piece and this in turn gave them the platform to score the first try of the match. Monivea centre Matthew Mannion crossed the whitewash in the 18th minute and also kicked the conversion to put Connacht seven points up.
Connacht continued to dominate play for the next few minutes, however Leinster gradually began to break them down. Brilliant work from Ronan Costello and captain John Shine on the half hour mark led to Kilkenny full-back Liam Caddy scoring a try after Burke’s well-weighted chip through. Burke added the extra two points to bring the sides level.
The Connacht response was swift, though, as immediately from the restart and from a scrum set-up, the influential Mannion ran in under the posts, scoring his second try of the match. Mannion converted to restore a seven-point advantage for Paul Flanagan’s men – 14-7.
Second row Marty Cummins of Connacht was given a yellow card just before half-time and while the westerners managed the period well, they could not stop Leinster from making a dream start to the second half.
David Mahon’s side hit back on the resumption with a try in the corner scored by Enniscorthy winger Ivan Jacob. Burke missed the conversion, but Connacht’s lead was now down to just two points.
Although neither team could dominate the remainder of this entertaining tie, crucially Leinster managed to play a lot of the game in Connacht territory and they applied huge pressure to the visitors’ try-line in the closing stages.
With 78 minutes on the clock, the pressure finally paid off as referee George Finn awarded the hosts a penalty from a scrum. Burke did the necessary, slotting over the penalty to set up a hard-fought victory for the men in blue and ensure a heartbreaking finish for Connacht.
LEINSTER: Liam Caddy (Kilkenny); Ivan Jacob (Enniscorthy), Killian Lett (Enniscorthy), William (Cas) O’Brien (Tullow), Marcus McAllister (Malahide); Pete Condon (Monkstown), Ian Burke (De La Salle Palmerston); Alan Wall (Ashbourne), Johnny Lee (Coolmine), Dylan Quinn (Longford), Frank Murphy (Tullow), Ronan Costelloe (De La Salle Palmerston), Mark Williams (Gorey), John Shine (Malahide) (capt), Dave O’Connor (Kilkenny).
Replacements: Eanna Killian (Wicklow), Paul McCreanor (Clondalkin), Cathal Bannon (Portarlington), Barry Stewart (Longford), Simon Deevey (Ashbourne), Eric Flynn (Monkstown), Podge Mahon (Kilkenny), Ross Doyle (Portarlington).
CONNACHT: Coleman Maher (Monivea); Peter O’Toole (Connemara), Matthew Mannion (Monivea), Mike Allen (Ballina), Enda Hogan (Monivea); Seamie Fahy (Monivea), Mickey Murphy (Ballina) (capt); Padraig Mannion (Monivea), Ger Fahy (Monivea), Adam Bourke (Westport), Vinnie Lally (Monivea), Marty Cummins (Dunmore), Stephen Joyce (Monivea), Fergal Tully (Ballina), Roy Stanley (NUIG).
Replacements: Shane Faulkner (NUIG), Eugene Conroy (Connemara), Cormac Grodan (Westport), TJ Berry (Connemara), Jack Winters (Ballinrobe), Alan Tierney (Tuam), Ryan Guilfoyle (NUIG), Ian Murphy (Tuam).
ROUND 2 FIXTURES: Saturday, May 6
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
CONNACHT (3rd) v ULSTER (1st), Ballina RFC
MUNSTER (4th) v LEINSTER (2nd), Newcastle West RFC