UCD threatened to end Terenure College’s long-standing 28-match Ulster Bank League winning streak tonight before the Division 1A leaders stamped their authority on the sides’ Belfield clash to take a 26-17 verdict.
Unbeaten in league fare since February 2013, Terenure fell 17-8 behind with little over 16 minutes remaining as UCD put themselves in a winning position in this Friday Night Lights game.
However, it all unravelled for the students as Mark O'Neill's introduction saw 'Nure score two tries through James O'Donoghue and Robert Duke and an injury-time penalty from O'Neill capped off a fine comeback.
A scrappy opening spell saw both sides concede penalties at the breakdown, but Donagh Lawler's pressure led to a penalty on halfway. Ross Byrne's kick had the distance but his effort drifted left and wide of the left hand post.
Terenure countered and five minutes later they should have been in when scrum half Kevin O'Neill drove towards the line. But lacking support, referee Nigel Correll gave the penalty to the students for holding on.
And in what was reminiscent of a week ago when Lansdowne had the chance to score and the UCD defence held firm before scoring at the other end, 'Nure duly leaked the first points of the night.
The warning signs were there for James Blaney's men when Adam Byrne raced onto a superb cross-field kick on the left touchline but the winger failed to keep hold of the ball as it popped up for him in the in-goal area.
Then UCD made their pressure count, 21 minutes in, gathering the ball well at their own lineout five metres inside the Terenure 22. Their driving maul brought them to within metres of the line and scrum half Nick McCarthy dived over after the 'Nure defence had held the two previous charges short. Ross Byrne's conversion gave the students a 7-0 lead
Three minutes later, centre Garry Ringrose cut brilliantly inside the Terenure midfield on halfway to launch a thrilling attack that led to a well-taken second try.
Ringrose got in behind a third tackler before offloading to full-back Billy Dardis who fixed the last 'Nure defender before sending winger Sam Coghlan Murray (pictured below) away to finish well in the corner.
Byrne's conversion went to the right and wide from the right touchline but Bobby Byrne's youngsters looked comfortable at 12-0.
Dardis and Adam Byrne both went for the line on separate occasions and eventually UCD conceded a penalty to allow Terenure build from the back. In the final kick of the half, former UCD out-half James Thornton got the table toppers off the mark with a penalty from 32 metres, seeing them trail 12-3 at the break.
The second half was just four minutes' old when Blaney's charges got a foothold in the game. O'Donoghue put centre Stephen O'Neill racing clear to score for the second game running. Thornton was off target with the conversion from wide out on the left.
UCD should have made their domination count when 'Nure flanker Duke was sin-binned. Ross Byrne twice opted to go down the line and despite Ringrose, Harry McNulty and Dardis all threatening with ball in, the Terenure defence held firm. A knock on saw them turn the ball over close to their posts.
Nonetheless, the hosts got their reward just before the hour as Ringrose started another move on his own 10-metre line, drawing three tacklers in midfield. Ross Byrne brought play inside the Terenure half and then a brilliantly flighted pass out wide from Peadar Timmins saw Coghlan Murray use his blistering pace to run in his second try of the night which went unconverted.
Replacement Mark O'Neill closed the gap to six points – 17-11 – with a penalty on 65 minutes. Ringrose had the opportunity to push the lead back out to nine but his penalty sailed inches wide and Terenure made UCD pay for those missed kicks during the closing stages.
Firstly, Stephen O'Neill sent winger O'Donoghue down the right touchline and over with 10 minutes remaining, but Mark O'Neill's missed conversion left his side trailing 17-16.
Terenure led for the first time when replacement Willie Devane burst through midfield and offloaded after being hauled back in a breakaway, 10 metres from the UCD line. His pass sent Duke charging through for a decisive seven-pointer.
Mark O'Neill converted a late penalty to deny UCD a losing bonus point they deserved but, in truth, they should have been out of sight by the time O'Donoghue had scored Terenure's second try.
Referee: Nigel Correll (IRFU)