Dublin University were made to work hard to maintain their 100% winning start to the Energia All-Ireland League season. A strong second half showing earned them a 35-16 victory over Ballynahinch last Saturday.
‘Hinch had a physical edge that forced uncharacteristic errors out of Trinity, with two Greg Hutley penalties and a Jamie Macartney maul try giving them an early 13-0 advantage.
Roared on by the College Park crowd, the students performed better towards the end of the first half. Louis McDonough made the initial incision and put James Dillon away for their opening try.
Max Dunne then powered over from close range, helping to close the gap to 16-15, and Tony Smeeth’s young side went up through the gears after the break to score 20 unanswered points.
There were two more tries, scored by Ronan Quinn and another for Dillon courtesy of a superb Harry Sheridan pass. In-form out-half Aran Egan contributed 15 points from the tee.
Giving his reaction afterwards, Dublin University’s long-serving director of rugby Tony Smeeth agreed that they were far from their best during the game, especially during that hotly-contested first half.
“I’m happy with the result definitely, not probably with the performance,” he admitted. “I think we were as poor as we’ve been all year in that opening 30 minutes and Ballynahinch were good. It probably always works that way.
“I think we were probably a bit ambitious, passing ball all over the shop, whereas Ballynahinch were more direct and conditions were quite early on.
“I think they played with the right game-plan – something we had talked about doing beforehand but we didn’t actually do it in the first half.
“I think Ballynahinch were very good with the ball in the early stages and we weren’t, that’s why they led 13-0 at one stage.”
Despite getting off to a sloppy start, he did admit that his charges were much improved towards the end of the opening 40 minutes and into the start of the closing half.
“We got a couple of scores just before half-time and in the second half we really kicked into it and we played well. We were more direct and when you do that the space will open up.”
Powerful teenage prop Paddy McCarthy once again put in a solid performance. A 2022 Leinster Schools Senior Cup winner with Blackrock College, he looks a rising star and is hotly tipped to play for the Ireland Under-20s this season.
While full of praise for the young front rower, Smeeth acknowledged that he does not envisage having him as readily available in the immediate future as he is now.
“We’re enjoying Paddy while he’s with us because I don’t think we’re going to see him for long. He’s one of those generational type players.
“Like Joe, his brother, he’s just very hard to stop. He always breaks the line, for a guy who is only 19-years-old it’s pretty amazing.”
The front five has been a real area of improvement for Trinity in recent seasons. They are not only known now just for throwing the ball around and playing expansive rugby, but they are well able to match the best teams physically and win the collisions.
“It’s been good for probably about four or five years now to be honest with you. We’ve had some big guys like Joe McCarthy, Jack Dunne, Ryan Baird and now with Thomas Clarkson here, it’s big.
“We’ve got about two sets of front rows now that can play Division 1A rugby and you need that for this level,” explained Smeeth.
This coming Saturday they make the journey across the River Liffey to Castle Avenue to face reigning champions Clontarf who have not lost a league game in a year. It will be a massive challenge and one that they will definitely have to be at their best for.
“I think every week is a test, but I think it is the acid test. All we have to do is go over there and play well and if we do that we’ve got a chance.
“We beat them over there the year before Covid. We have done it before, but they are a different animal.”
There is growing hype surrounding this Trinity squad, captained by Louis O’Reilly from scrum half. Many believe they will finish in the play-off positions, with some predicting they could be dark horses for the title.
The vastly-experienced Smeeth understandably played down this talk so early in the league campaign, adding: “We’re only four games in. Let’s see what we can do against Clontarf, everything is going to go through them and Terenure this season.
“‘Tarf beat us well twice last season and they have got five or six ex-Trinity players, so they know how we like to play, but until we beat a Clontarf or Terenure it’s too early to say.”