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Naas Strike Late To Deny Wesley And Return To Division 1B Summit

Naas Strike Late To Deny Wesley And Return To Division 1B Summit

A late brace of tries from Fionn Higgins inspired a 31-23 comeback victory for Naas at Old Wesley, as Johne Murphy’s men entered the mid-November break with a four-point lead at the top of All-Ireland League Division 1B.


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OLD WESLEY 23 NAAS 31, Energia Park, Donnybrook (played on Friday)
Scorers: Old Wesley: Tries: Tommy O’Callaghan, Cronan Gleeson; Cons: Rory Stynes 2; Pens: Rory Stynes 3
Naas: Tries: Paulie Tolofua, Peter Osborne, Fionn Higgins 2; Cons: Peter Osborne 4; Pen: Peter Osborne

HT: Old Wesley 13 Naas 7

Boosted by the inclusion of Munster development prop Cronan Gleeson, Old Wesley were targeting another scalp after winning at Banbridge last week. They will be kicking themselves as they emerged pointless from this rescheduled game, despite leading 23-17 in the closing stages.

The heavy rain relented for the kick-off, thankfully, and both teams showed a willingness to play open, running rugby in what was a very entertaining tussle. Wesley hit the front within four minutes, big lock JJ O’Dea charging up to the 22 on a trademark burst before some slick offloading created an inviting overlap on the right and winger Tommy O’Callaghan jinked his way over.

Full-back Rory Stynes stepped up to land a crisply-struck conversion, a kick matched by his opposite number Peter Osborne around seven minutes later. Naas pressed from a penalty kicked to the corner, patiently going through the phases from Will O’Brien’s initial lineout take, before space opened up on the left for captain Paulie Tolofua to cross.

Both sides had fired shots at seven points apiece, and it was Wesley who went on to lead 13-7 at half-time thanks to their strong set piece platform and the reliable right boot of Stynes. Naas were guilty of wheeling a scrum in the 24th minute, allowing the hosts’ goal-kicker to split the posts from the 10-metre line.

A collapsed scrum, past the half hour mark, set up a lineout opportunity for Morgan Lennon’s side and with Naas leaking a penalty for a maul infringement, Stynes was on target again to open up a six-point advantage. Osborne missed a chance to respond, the wind catching his penalty attempt early in the second half.

Nonetheless, the Kildare outfit were starting to gain the upper hand in terms of possession, and Wesley were not helped by their lineout, which was a huge asset against Banbridge, coming under increasing pressure from the Cobras’ jumpers.

Stynes broke a deadlock which had lasted until the 58th minute, punishing Naas for not releasing a tackled player as he kicked the hosts into a 16-7 lead with a terrific strike from 45 metres out. However, within the space of a minute, it was a two-point game.

Wesley coughed up possession from the restart, the loose ball leading to a sniping break from Naas out-half Peter Hastie and Osborne, who plays in a number of positions across the back-line, was up in support to take the pass and crash over for a seven-pointer.

The vocal crowd was gripped as the intensity and tempo increased again and the sides traded quick-fire scores – three in just four minutes. An Osborne penalty gave Naas the lead for the first time, but the visitors misjudged the Wesley restart which was caught by Paul Derham whose pass released loosehead Gleeson to score by the posts, giving Stynes a straightforward conversion.

However, Johne Murphy’s charges put together a simply sensational finish with winger Fionn Higgins touching down twice, taking his tally to four tries in two games. He showed his finishing skills to squeeze over in the right corner after a neat necklace of passes from a scrum in the Wesley 22.

Osborne, who finished with 16 points, lifted the Cobras further with a brilliant touchline conversion, making it 24-23 to the visitors, and they left Wesley crestfallen with a last-minute bonus point try. The Dubliners were hunting for their own match-winning score when Higgins intercepted a pass on his own 22-metre line and could not be caught.

Giving his reaction afterwards, Naas player-coach Murphy, who lined out at inside centre, told Irish Rugby TV: “We’ve built a really good squad and there’s a lot of belief. I think this time last year if that had happened (trailing 23-17 late on) we probably wouldn’t have come out the right side of the result.

“Credit to the lads, they really, really dug in and I think the effort we showed to turn the ball over in their last phase to not settle to win the game, but to stop them getting a bonus point, in the overall league structure, is very important.

“We struggled last year to get that rhythm game after game – we were on a high and then we’d take two or three weeks to get back up. So we’re really trying to concentrate on each week at a time and we’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes in that regard.”

OLD WESLEY: Rory Stynes; Tommy O’Callaghan, Bill Corrigan, David Poff, Paul Harte (capt); Tom Kiersey, Charlie O’Regan; Cronan Gleeson, Ben Burns, James Burton, JJ O’Dea, Iain McGann, Paul Derham, Josh Pim, Mark Rowley.

Replacements: Andrew McCrann, Harry Noonan, Darren Horan, Josh Miller, Cillian Monahan.

NAAS: Peter Osborne; Fionn Higgins, Andy Ellis, Johne Murphy, Niall Delahunt; Peter Hastie, Max Whittingham; Conor Doyle, Cathal Duff, Adam Coyle, Paul Monahan, David Benn, Ryan Casey, Will O’Brien, Paulie Tolofua (capt).

Replacements: Graham Reynolds, Jordan Duggan, Eoin Walsh, Ben O’Connor, Pierce Dargan.