UCC retained their All-Ireland League Division 1A status thanks to a 41-19 promotion/relegation play-off final victory over a valiant Old Wesley side at the Mardyke.
Scrum pressure forced a 50th-minute penalty try, reducing the arrears for Wesley to 23-19, but UCC clinically put away their remaining chances as star out-half James Taylor knocked over two more penalties and ex-Munster centre Cian Bohane (65 minutes) and Michael Clune (70) scored the final tries.
The impressive Taylor tallied up 21 points, including five penalties, to take his season’s haul to 188 points at the top of Division 1A’s scoring charts. Old Wesley put in a huge collective effort, just six days on from their extra-time victory over Naas, but top flight rugby – they last played in Division 1 in 1997 – remains frustratingly out of reach.
Try-scoring centre Bohane told Irish Rugby TV afterwards: “I don’t think anyone would have given us a chance last year, the fact that we came fourth (in Division 1B) and got promoted through the play-offs. And when we got here I don’t think anybody gave us a chance either.
“I do genuinely believe we garnered a lot of respect from the other Division 1A teams through our performances. Were we unlucky to be in the play-offs? Yeah. But at the same time, Terenure were incredible after Christmas. They deserved not to be in the play-offs. We found ourselves here and I think we have proven that we deserve to be in 1A. We’re good enough.
“It’s just about building towards next season now. A lot of players will gain experience from that, we’ve a lot of fresh faces in the team, lads just out of school. I think when they get the experience of a full season of 1A under their belt, depending on how recruitment goes and the training we put in over the summer, I can’t see any reason why this group can’t be pushing for play-off places.”
There were positive early signs for Morgan Lennon’s men as number 8 Paul Derham powered over beside the posts from an inside pass by Charlie O’Regan, the pair being two of the five former UCC players in the visitors’ starting XV. That converted try came in response to Taylor’s penalty opener in the third minute.
UCC got on the front foot through the forwards and Bohane, who carried a significant threat in midfield. He got his hands free in a tackle to supply a deft offload for John Poland to raid in behind the posts for their first try, 18 minutes in. Poland’s half-back partner Taylor converted and tagged on two penalties, punishing Derham for going off his feet and the second one was for offside.
Two very well-taken tries closed out a very entertaining first half, as Tom Kiersey’s break and David Poff’s dummy and pass released pacy Wesley winger Tommy O’Callaghan to scorch over in the right corner. UCC full-back Rob Hedderman crashed over in the corner on the stroke of half-time, handing off Poff after Taylor had provided the assist with a pinpoint long pass.
The UCC number 10 added a superbly-struck conversion from far out on the left, establishing a 23-12 buffer at the break. Nonetheless, the battling qualities shown by Wesley last week were evident again when they capitalised on Clune’s yellow card for a high tackle on O’Callaghan. A series of close-in scrums saw the Wesley front row rewarded with an eventual penalty try.
Despite the boost that score provided, the Dubliners were also falling foul of referee Mark Patton’s whistle. They felt aggrieved when a Conor Barry poach went unrewarded, instead the penalty decision went against them and Taylor stepped up to steady the ship for UCC at 26-19. His ultra-reliable right boot stretched the margin to 10 points on the hour mark.
With 15 minutes remaining, Poland and Taylor combined off a scrum inside the Wesley 22 to set up Bohane who broke a first-up tackle and then handed off two more defenders on his way to a smartly-taken seven-pointer.
The pace off the mark of winger Clune earned him an opportunist final try to wrap it up. After gathering a kick, Poff’s attempted pass back to captain Paul Harte went to ground, Clune hacked it on, kicked through a second time and won the race to the touchdown.
Going unbeaten in their final three games of the season, this was a huge result for Brian Walsh’s youngsters who had begun their maiden Division 1A campaign with six defeats on the bounce. Today’s outcome keep the number of University clubs in the top flight at three.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) May 4, 2019
It could also be the first of two final wins for Cork sides this weekend with table-topping Constitution gunning for their sixth league title against Clontarf tomorrow at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 3pm). Tickets for the Division 1A final are available to buy online here.