Conor McKeon was the hero for Lansdowne on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch tonight, as Terenure College’s incredible 29-match winning streak finally came to an end in a tense Ulster Bank League Division 1A encounter.
Ireland Under-20 international Conor McKeon landed an injury-time penalty to see Lansdowne defeat the table toppers 15-13, and close the gap at the summit to four points.
When James Thornton (pictured below) responded to a Scott Deasy penalty with a three-pointer of his own three minutes into time added on, the visitors were set to extend an unbeaten league run that had stood since February 2013.
Mike Ruddock's charges had other ideas, though, and after forcing 'Nure into the concession of a further penalty, young out-half McKeon showed nerves of steel to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Terenure had displayed enormous character to continue their dream start to the season at Belfield last Friday against UCD. In recording a bonus point win over St. Mary's College on the same night, Lansdowne had shown that they mean business.
Despite suffering two recent reversals in the league, Ruddock's side occupied second place in the table prior to this round 7 showdown – seven points adrift of Terenure.
Both of these teams are noted for the expansive brand of rugby that they play but because of the torrential rain that greeted this contest, scores were always going to be at a premium.
Full-back Deasy was off target with the boot two minutes into this rain-soaked top of the table clash, missing from an awkward angle on the left.
Lansdowne suffered a second early setback when centre Tom Daly received a yellow card from referee Gary Conway. However, with Daly's opposite number, Ciaran Quigley, forced off through injury, 'Nure could not take advantage of their temporary numerical advanage.
With nine minutes on the clock, former Gonzaga student McKeon eventually opened the scoring from distance. Nonetheless, as the first quarter progressed, Terenure were starting to settle into the proceedings.
After turning over a Lansdowne scrum seven minutes later, hooker Robbie Smyth (pictured below) drove over powerfully for the game's only try. The conversion was comfortably added by Thornton and as a result, the league leaders were starting to grow in confidence.
Even though Deasy opened his account courtesy of a 26th minute penalty, James Blaney's men regained their four-point advantage with another successful effort from former UCD star Thornton.
However, the sin-binning of Terenure captain James O'Neill seven minutes before the interval was a significant blow to their prospects, and a second successful Deasy penalty gave the loyal Lansdowne faithful reason to be cheerful.
The headquarters club did knock the ball on when a try seemed imminent during the latter stages of the half, and the game remained on a real knife-edge with 'Nure leading 10-9 at the break.
The play on the restart followed a similar pattern to the first half and despite being forced on the back foot to a considerable degree, Terenure held onto their slim advantage as McKeon's majestic drop goal attempt on the hour rebounded off the woodwork and away to safety.
A similar strike by Terenure replacement Mark O'Neill, who was making a big impact in the scrum half position, also missed the mark. With 'Nure continuing to frustrate the hosts, a scoreless half of rugby was looking increasingly likely.
Deasy punished the visitors for failing to release right on the 80-minute mark, slotting a routine penalty and suddenly the pressure was on Terenure to respond in swift fashion.
To their credit, this was exactly what they did from the resulting attack. Despite losing his footing, Thornton's execution from the kicking tee was spot on as he sent over the lead penalty at 13-12.
Another Terenure triumph now seemed inevitable, but McKeon ultimately had the final say in a dramatic climax that gripped the watching crowd.
Thornton had a last-gasp chance to seal the win from a speculative drop goal shot nine minutes into injury-time, but Terenure had to be content with a losing bonus point which, coupled with Lansdowne's success, leaves a four-point gap between the first and second-placed sides.
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU)