Lansdowne survived a late, late scare to finish as one-point winners over Old Belvedere in a tense New Year encounter on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch.
Mike Ruddock's men were 21-15 ahead entering the final minutes and although Shane McDonald went over out wide for Old Belvedere's third try, fellow winger Josh Glynn missed what would have been a match-winning conversion.
Lansdowne, who had prop Peter Dooley sin-binned in the 78th minute, somehow held on to begin 2015 on a winning note, making it six league victories on the trot to temporarily move seven points clear at the top of the Division 1A table.
Belvedere got off to the perfect start as Glynn and Aidan Wynne made good breaks but after referee Kieran Barry brought play back for a penalty, Glynn dragged a tricky third minute effort across the posts and wide.
In 'Belvo's recent defeat to Clontarf, flanker Kieran O'Gorman was their go-to man in the lineout and he was a central figure again here. His take in the fifth minute led to Wynne making a line break, however a lack of support saw them unable to convert the chance.
When a turnover from Peter Robb led to a scrum, the hosts' pack, who were especially dominant in the set piece, drove forward to gain a penalty. Experienced out-half Scott Deasy went down the line and he split the posts when 'Belvo were penalised for not rolling away.
Within minutes Old Belvedere executed a brilliant training ground move as Daniel Riordan's penalty brought them up to within 10 metres of the whitewash. From there, the reliable O'Gorman was fed at the back of the lineout. He tapped down to the onrushing Michael Oyuga who ran in unopposed, making it 5-3 with Glynn missing the conversion.
But the visitors' inadequacies in the scrum saw them driven back again, allowing Deasy to slot over from in front of the posts.
Belvedere's troubles at the set piece continued as another dominant scrummaging display from the Lansdowne forwards saw them march down the field, only for a cross-field kick for the onrushing John Coleman in the in-goal area to be knocked dead.
A quick 22 drop-out from Aaron Sheehan might have resulted in a try for 'Belvo had he got a lucky bounce but the recovering Lansdowne defence managed to slide into touch. Deasy then landed his third successful penalty on the half hour mark for a 9-5 scoreline, punishing 'Belvo for not rolling away.
It might have been more minutes later as quick hands along the back-line saw Tom Farrell skip up the wing. A last-ditch tackle saw the ball pop out of his hands and although Lansdowne duly won a scrum penalty, Deasy's long range kick dropped short of the target.
Leinster Academy star Cian Kelleher then gathered a clearance kick in his own 22 and ran it back 40 metres before a foot in touch stopped his gallop. Another 'Belvo infringement at the breakdown led to a Lansdowne attacking lineout, five minutes before the break. Flanker Joe O'Brien touched down soon after from an excellent rolling maul and Deasy converted.
Belvedere might have decided to regroup at the break, but a quick tap and go from Sheehan saw the scrum half find a gap and gain 40 metres for his side. He lacked support, but a penalty for offside saw Glynn reduce the arrears to 16-8 at the interval.
Lansdowne seemingly tightened their grip on the game in the 49th minute when quick hands across the back-line saw full-back Kelleher, the recipient of the Ulster Bank Rising Star of the Month award for November, dot down in the corner.
Deasy created the space out wide when he opted to step inside and take the ball into contact a few phases before that. It drew a few more 'Belvo tacklers, leaving a gap on the wing for Kelleher to touch down. Deasy converted to widen the margin to 13 points.
Despite being penalised once more at scrum time, Belvedere were threatening now, John Kennedy and Robb at centre, second half replacement Rory O'Loughlin and McDonald on the wings all inching towards the Lansdowne line. But when it looked like a try was inevitable, 'Belvo were penalised for holding on.
The game turned on the hour as winger Coleman was sin-binned in a last-ditch attempt to stop the 'Belvo march. Within a minute the pick and go tactic eeked out the hard yards and prop Adam Howard crashed over to the left of the posts. Glynn's successful kick closed the gap to 21-15.
It was all 'Belvo as the sprightly Sheehan made way for Charlie Rock who injected some more urgency into the visitors' play. Rock, O'Loughlin and Wynne made breaks while an under-pressure Lansdowne defence was beginning to show signs of cracking. Glynn saw another penalty attempt flash across the face of the goal.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, 'Belvo were their own worst enemy. A penalty for not rolling away saw Wynne bring them up to the Lansdowne 22, but a crooked lineout let the home side off the hook. And when Lansdowne were back to full strength, a superb break from Farrell should have been finished off by Kelleher, only for the former Ireland Under-20 international to knock on 20 metres inside the 'Belvo half.
'Belvo fought back and should have been in for a try when presented with a three-on-one overlap – McDonald attacked from inside his own half with Robb and O'Loughlin outside him. The winger cut inside and opted to go it alone, but a ankle tap brought him down inches from the line and miraculously, the Lansdowne cover got back. Dooley was one of them and when he was guilty of not rolling away quickly enough, the young loosehead was promptly sin-binned.
Try scorer Oyuga and O'Loughlin both came close to scoring for Paul Cunningham's charges – it took immense work from the Lansdowne defence to keep them out. However, 'Belvo were drawing in players to the ruck, leaving space outside for McDonald who touched down in the corner in injury-time, leaving just a single point between the sides.
Unfortunately for the 'Belvo players and supporters, Glynn pulled his crunch conversion kick across the posts like some of his earlier misses and the visitors were left with their seventh losing bonus point of the season.
Referee: Kieran Barry (IRFU)