Three penalty goals from Matt D’Arcy steered Clontarf to a gritty 9-0 Ulster Bank League Division 1A semi-final success at Terenure College as they bounced back from last week’s Bateman Cup final disappointment in Cork.
Under the stewardship of head coach Andy Wood, Clontarf have proven themselves to be one of the most consistent sides in club rugby, and they will be presented with an opportunity to retain their title when they face Lansdowne at the Aviva Stadium in an all-Dublin decider on Saturday, May 9.
Given their status as reigning champions, the north Dubliners had good reason to eb confident heading into this clash. However, the injury-enforced absence of dependable out-half David Joyce was a significant blow for them and having succumbed to a 14-9 defeat to Terenure at the same venue in November, they knew winning at Lakelands Park would be a tough task.
Indeed, only five points separated the teams (16-11) when they met at Castle Avenue just two months ago, and with a solitary point splitting them in the final Division 1A, another close encounter was expected.
The adverse weather conditions made it difficult for both teams at Lakelands and in the absence of shoulder injury victim Joyce, inside centre Matt D'Arcy assumed the place-kicking duties with the experienced Evan Ryan donning the number 10 jersey.
D'Arcy, Ireland's Club international captain this year, missed his first two shots at the posts and Terenure began to make inroads as their back-three of Ian Hanly, James O'Donoghue and Harry Moore handled more ball out wide.
Yet, despite the best efforts of Terenure out-half James Thornton, who was short with an 18th minute penalty, and the aforementioned Ryan, who cut through midfield on a notable break in the closing stages, the teams played out a scoreless first half.
Thornton was agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock on the resumption, and another chance was lost when James Blaney's men failed to retain possession following an incisive back-line move.
It was D'Arcy who finally opened the scoring with a well-struck 51st-minute penalty. He failed to convert a subsequent effort and 'Nure's powerful lock Fergal Walsh was held up on a drive for the visitors' try-line, just past the hour mark. Clontarf also went close as replacement Ariel Robles almost grounded a Ryan dink into the right corner and number 8 Tony Ryan was denied too from close range.
Inside the final quarter hour, Thornton dragged a left-sided penalty to the right and wide while Clontarf's Dermot O'Meara was in the sin-bin and Terenure's frustration grew as D'Arcy split the posts at the other end with 71 minutes gone.
The hopes of last year's Division 1B winners took a real hit with yellow cards for lock Kevin O'Dwyer and scrum half Kevin O'Neill in the closing stages. Indeed, O'Neill went close to scoring a try before his exit from the pitch for a high tackle on Max McFarland.
O'Dwyer did return to the 'Nure pack for the conclusion of the contest, but thanks to a routine D'Arcy penalty deep into injury-time, Clontarf's back-to-back title ambitions remain alive.
Referee: Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU)