The kitman, or Chief Washer of Jerseys, for Dublin University Football Club (DUFC), has something to answer for after the Christmas break. The side trotted out today, on a perishing afternoon in College Park, with their normally pristine white jerseys looking decidedly pinkish. Too much sherry trifle, perhaps. This feature, however, was soon cast to the back of the mind. A breathless display of fast-paced, often incisive, rugby, gave Trinity a 25-10 win in what had accurately been billed as a must-win clash against fellow strugglers St Mary’s College RFC.
It was apparent, even early doors, that DUFC were very much in the mood. After comfortably dealing with a bright opening salvo from the visitors, the force of the hosts’ pack, coupled with the vivacity of a backline bristling with menace, swung the momentum of the game in favour of the students. Stand-in outhalf Jack McDermott’s grubber may have been slightly forced, but with advantage on his side it was a risk worth taking and when play was called back he slotted a nerve-settling three points from in front of the posts.
This, though, was a mere warm-up compared to what came next. On the quarter hour, scrumhalf Angus Lloyd fielded a clearing kick on the edge of his own 10-metre line. He offloaded to Michael Silvester, who had, it seemed, little by way of attacking options ahead of him. An outrageous chip and chase later, however, and the St Mary’s defensive line was in tatters, scrambling to cover as the mercurial fullback twisted and turned his way towards the line. He was caught on the edge of the 22, but with a piece of deft handling offloaded into the path of onrushing front-row Joe Byrne, who thundered over for the game’s first try. McDermott added the extra two points to leave Trinity seemingly in the driving seat.
St Mary’s were shaken but not cowed by Trinity’s intensity. They began to gain some territory, with outhalf Sean Kearns in particular showing signs of life in possession. Halfway through the first half, the referee adjudged DUFC’s efforts to halt the marauding Cathal O’Flaherty to be illegal. Concurrently, Trinity’s Paddy Finlay lay on the turf injured. After a prolonged delay, during which the recently recalled Joe Horan came on in his place, Kearns kicked the ensuing penalty to leave only a converted try between the sides.
And it was not long before the sides were level, after a delicate chip from Matthew Timmons eluded by inches the grasp of winger Matthew Opperman and bobbled out five metres from the Trinity line. Perhaps rusty from a lack of first-team rugby, Horan’s lineout throw failed to find any of his own players, dropping into the welcoming arms of St Mary’s hooker Richard Halpin. Some last-ditch defending held Halpin at bay, but Kearns would not be denied, wriggling through to dive over under the posts. He duly converted.
Here the pendulum swung once again, and DUFC reasserted the dominance they had previously held. Angus Lloyd was a livewire, and it was from him that Trinity’s next chance came. A clever blind-side move down the left led almost to a try for Jack Dunne after he sold the St Mary’s defence with a clever dummy, and he came even closer from a penalty won two minutes later, knocking on agonisingly as he sought to slam the ball down over the line.
This was only a momentary reprieve for St Mary’s. On the other wing, Trinity won another lineout. Horan’s throwing, erratic until this point, was accurate, and Jack Burke’s claim gave DUFC the perfect platform. A lovely through-the-hands move culminated in a fabulous pass from Michael Courtney releasing Evan Dixon to crash over in the corner. McDermott converted from a difficult angle to put daylight between the sides once again.
Trinity had to soak up some more pressure before the break, and Sam Pim was sent to the sin bin for an off-the-ball infringement, but Tony Smeeth’s side made it to half time with their lead intact.
The second half began at the same frenetic pace, but without the same level of precision. Neither side looked able to carve open the other through passing rugby with individual line-breaks providing the surest route to the opposition line. St Mary’s back-row Daragh McDonnell showed deceptive pace to barrel through the Trinity defence, but he was stopped short of the line.
The try that killed the game, when it came on the hour mark, would have left many rubbing their eyes. It seemed there was little danger when McDermott’s overhit chip bobbled into the St Mary’s 22, but, with Opperman seemingly intent on waiting for the ball to go dead, McDermott seized his chance and dived on the rolling ball. McDermott himself appeared scarcely to believe the nature of the try he had just scored. From a tricky angle, his conversion drifted wide.
It was about game management now, and DUFC displayed it in measures we have not always seen this season. McDermott added one more penalty to the scoreboard, but mostly DUFC were content to play for territory and frustrate the visitors. Smeeth will be delighted to have gotten the calendar year off to such a positive start, with his side now sitting eighth in the table and another spot away from the relegation trapdoor. Now to bleach the jerseys.