The Aviva Stadium looked resplendent as it opened its doors for the first rugby match at the venue, Saturday’s O2 Challenge encounter between Leinster/Ulster and Connacht/Munster. The 35,115 spectators were treated to an entertaining game which was well won by the youngsters in blue and white.
O2 CHALLENGE MATCH: Saturday, July 31
LEINSTER/ULSTER 68 CONNACHT/MUNSTER 0, Aviva Stadium
Scorers: Leinster/Ulster: Tries: Craig Gilroy 2, Luke Marshall 2, Sam Coghlan Murray, Andrew Boyle 3, Conor Spence, Michael McAuley; Cons: Paddy Jackson 6, Cathal Marsh 3
Six first half tries, all converted by out-half Paddy Jackson, set the combined Leinster/Ulster selection up nicely for a comfortable victory as Irish rugby returned to its spiritual home.
The Connacht/Munster squad and management will have been disappointed with the result, but this was very much a day of celebration at the redeveloped Lansdowne Road venue and a chance of some of Ireland’s stars of the future to shine.
The provincial splits saw players from the Under-18 to Under-20 age grades join forces, and Dungannon and Ulster flyer Craig Gilroy made history by becoming the first scorer at the Aviva Stadium.
With just five minutes on the clock, the 19-year-old Gilroy wrote himself into the history books by latching onto a crossfield kick from Jackson and touching down in the corner.
The Leinster/Ulster team continued to impress throughout the opening half with five more tries before the interval.
Sam Coghlan Murray, who played for the Ireland U-18 Schools side earlier this year, got his name on the scoresheet with a well-taken score, while UCD’s Andrew Boyle and impressive captain Luke Marshall registered two tries each.
Ireland U-19 international Jackson showed tremendous accuracy with his place kicks, converting all six tries.
In the second half, the Connacht/Munster outfit improved, but it was only a matter of time before they conceded again and it was Boyle who went over just before the hour mark to complete his hat-trick. The Leinster prospect played in the recent IRB Junior World Championship for the Ireland U-20s, scoring in the play-off win over Samoa.
Leinster/Ulster’s next try came five minutes later, with the pacy Gilroy getting on the end of a classy chip from his provincial colleague Marshall.
Further tries from Ulster duo Conor Spence and Michael McAuley put the icing on the cake for the victorious Leinster/Ulster side, whetting the crowd’s appetite for the return of competitive rugby in the coming weeks.