A Matt D’Arcy hat-trick was the highlight of Clontarf’s 38-17 bonus point victory over UCD at Belfield on Saturday. They ran in six tries in all against a College side that was missing a host of Ireland Under-20s.
Having stayed within touching distance of Clontarf for an hour, UCD failed to score with a man advantage before the north Dubliners scored their fourth try of the afternoon to give themselves some breathing space.
UCD began the day in sixth position in the Division 1A table, three places and two points behind 'Tarf. They were without a host of Ireland U-20 internationals with Billy Dardis, Garry Ringrose, Ross Byrne and Nick McCarthy among eight players absent, but they began with a spark.
After an initial break from 'Tarf's Liam Og Murphy, which saw them make a 20-metre break, UCD countered and crossed the whitewash inside the opening five minutes.
A poor clearing kick from ful-back Rob Keogh failed to find touch and Sam Coghlan Murray countered. The students went through the phases, with Liam Bourke, Donagh Lawler and Liam Hyland all getting on the ball.
When possession was spread right to Stephen Murphy, the centre stepped inside a number of would-be tacklers before reaching over the line and touching down. Bourke, standing in at out-half for Ross Byrne, converted for a 7-0 lead.
It did not take long for the reigning champions to reply and Matt D'Arcy's initial chip in behind Adam Byrne gave good field position to 'Tarf. Andy Wood's men piled on the pressure, quick hands from D'Arcy seeing prop Royce Burke-Flynn carry forward and his offload out of a tackle put winger Rob McGrath over in the right corner. David Joyce split the posts with the levelling conversion.
With the swirling wind, Bourke sent a penalty kick wide and the elements came into play again when a UCD pass hung in the air and D'Arcy, attempting to intercept it, knocked it on with a straight run to the line in front of him.
'Tarf's Conor O'Keeffe was penalised for going over the top of a ruck but Bourke's luck was out once more when the ball dropped off the kicking tee and his drop-kicked effort sailed wide of the posts.
Although the UCD out-half was successful with a 25th minute penalty from near the left touchline, the students failed to make their tackles stick and saw their lead turn into a two-point deficit when Rory Litchfield was not put to ground by three tacklers. It created space out wide and his pass to Og Murphy was quickly sent on to D'Arcy who touched down to the left of the posts, with Joyce's conversion going wide.
UCD had their chances to strike back but full-back Coghlan Murray, while being tackled, was unable to link with the overlapping Adam Byrne, and Jordan Coghlan also knocked on inside the 'Tarf 22.
As the game neared half-time, Keogh sent D'Arcy away down the left touchline but Coghlan Murray came across to put him into touch and leave the students just 12-10 behind at the break. Coghlan Murray and Risteard Byrne were replaced at half-time and within five minutes of the restart, the visitors were in full control.
The in-form D'Arcy got the ball in midfield and stepped back inside the UCD defence, embarking on a 60-metre run – aided by a slip from Coghlan Murray's replacement Conall Doherty – that finished with him touching down and Joyce converting.
Once more UCD had their chances to hit back when Clontarf were reduced to 14 men with Karl Moran sin-binned with 50 minutes on the clock. UCD kicked for the corner before driving towards the whitewash, edging closer with each phase, but a knock-on saw Bobby Byrne's youngsters cough up possession.
Minutes later, after a scintillating break from Doherty, he knocked on just metres from the 'Tarf line. Referee Stuart Gaffikin then penalised the students for infringing at the resulting scrum.
Clontarf cleared and should have been further in front when Joyce sliced a penalty attempt on the hour, but it was only a matter of time before they broke through once more. College were penalised for a knock-on in the tackle and the visitors spread the ball right for to D'Arcy to run in unopposed. Joyce converted for a 26-10 scoreline with 15 minutes remaining.
'Tarf had the comfort of taking regular out-half Joyce off in the final 10 minutes and they then saw young prop Ivan Sokora pick and go for their fifth try of the day. Keogh was off target with the conversion.
Despite UCD missing out on a try when Harry McNulty lacked support following a 40-metre break, they did register a consolation score thanks to a well-taken Tom Fletcher effort which Bourke converted. But, as Joyce returned to the pitch, scrum half Sam Cronin sniped around the back of the ruck for a sixth Clontarf try right on the final whistle.
Referee: Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU)