Lansdowne captain Scott Deasy converted Joe O’Brien’s late try to secure a 23-all draw with Clontarf in a super-charged Division 1A clash on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch.
Clontarf will be kicking themselves as a lapse in discipline saw their Leinster hooker Aaron Dundon sent-off and lock Tom Byrne sin-binned, with the 13 men – defending a 23-16 lead – unable to prevent Lansdowne flanker Joe O'Brien from going over.
Lansdowne's late heroics seemed a dim and distant hope during a first half that was dominated by the visitors and, in particular, 'Tarf's talented young out-half Joey Carbery.
It was Lansdowne who opened the scoring with a well-struck Scott Deasy penalty from the left just outside the visitors' 22, the home side playing with a swirling breeze which was generally in their favour.
Deasy was subsequently unable to capitalise on a great Mark Roche break out of defence with a penalty from the 10-metre line, however, and Carbery struck the first of his six successful penalties to level matters after 16 minutes. By this time the unfortunate Foster Horan had limped off his wing with a knee injury which rules him out of the Ireland Sevens squad for this week's Dubai Sevens Invitational tournament.
Clontarf, with Leinster number 8 Anthony Ryan and tighthead Royce Burke-Flynn prominent, began to turn up the pressure, but conceded a further penalty at a scrum in front of the posts which saw Deasy on target again for 6-3 after 18 minutes.
This was to be Lansdowne's last input of significance before half-time, though, and 'Tarf dominated the second quarter. Carbery kicked a second penalty from the 10-metre line to level at 6-all in the 27th minute and then a great cut by the out-half from a poor Lansdowne defensive clearance set up his half-back partner Sam Cronin for a well-worked try and an 11-6 lead after 32 minutes.
Lansdowne conceded a string of penalties under pressure up to the break, two more of which were converted by Ireland Under-20 international Carbery to leave the visitors 17-6 ahead.
The half time pep-talk from Lansdowne boss Mike Ruddock worked wonders to rejuvenate his team, and they came flying out of the traps to get among a startled Clontarf pack. A great take by full back Eamonn Mills led to a penalty and a lineout deep in the visitors' 22.
Two mauls later, influential blindside O'Brien scored under the posts to leave skipper Deasy with the easiest of conversions. Visiting full-back Rob Keogh was sin-binned for a shoulder-led tackle in the build-up to the try.
Tom Farrell then set off on a mazy run which was carried on by his lively centre partner Roche, but the chance was lost. Young forwards Max Deegan and James Ryan – just 37-year-old between them! – teamed up to win a valuable turn-over penalty and back rower Deegan then made a good break, but was put into touch on the 'Tarf ’22.
Andy Wood's men were by no means a spent force, and the next 15 minutes saw both sides square up to each other with neither able to make the telling blow. Deasy and Carbery traded penalties for 20-16 after 73 minutes, the latter for Lansdowne prop Jack Barry not releasing, and it looked like Clontarf would hang on, particularly as Carbery tacked on his sixth successful penalty to extend the margin out to 23-16 in the 79th minute.
Crucially, this new-look Lansdowne team continued to take the fight to the opposition as the game entered a long injury-time spell, showing a never-say-die spirit which was typified by O'Brien, tighthead Ian Prendiville and second row replacement Ryan.
Building momentum down the left, Lansdowne were deep in the Clontarf 22 when Dundon was red carded for punching Lansdowne replacement Finn Gormley. The resulting penalty, knocked into the corner, saw the lineout won and a series of rolling mauls moved play infield.
The table toppers were defending desperately, and a further yellow card followed for Byrne for killing the ball under his own posts in the sixth minute of injury-time. With the opposition down to 13, somewhat surprisingly Lansdowne took a tap-and-go from the penalty rather than a scrum.
However, there was enough time left for O'Brien to power his way over 20 metres to the left of the posts. Deasy (pictured below) coolly added the extras and Lansdowne had snatched a draw from a most unlikely position, preserving their home run of 12 matches unbeaten in the league which now stretches back over a year.
Referee: Kieran Barry (IRFU)