Dublin University Football Club (DUFC) Men suffered their sixth All Ireland League (AIL) Division 1A loss of the season today against a well-drilled Clontarf Rugby Club side, falling to a 42-32 defeat in College Park.
Despite a spirited comeback in the second half – characterised by some exceptional attacking rugby – Trinity were unable to make good the difference and are now languishing in ninth place in the league table after three defeats in a row.
To start with, however, Trinity began the brighter of the two sides on a chilly afternoon in College Park. Mark Nicholson, returning to the starting fifteen for the first time since sustaining a shoulder injury last month against Lansdowne, opened the scoring within the first three minutes. He barrelled over the try line with relative ease after finding a gap in the Clontarf defence. James Fennelly, starting at fly-half for the first time in the league this season, opened his account for the day with the conversion.
Soon after Nicholson’s opening try, Clontarf were back on level terms – a sensational break from Seni Reilly-Ashiru created the opportunity for Jack Power to get the visitors on the board. Fly-half Georoid Lyons made no mistake with his conversion.
Trinity did not delay in seeking another opening. Soon after the restart, Fennelly slotted over a penalty from within range to put Trinity three ahead. Clontarf were equal to it – Lyons levelled the scores again with a penalty on the 18-minute mark.
Clontarf began to command proceedings as the first period wore on. Some excellent interplay between Lyons and Andrew Feeney probed the Trinity defence, but Trinity managed to clear their lines before the away side found the decisive pass.
Clontarf came again – Lyons kicked for the corner as they looked for their second try. Watertight defending saw DUFC survive the passage in their 22, with Fennelly’s clearance moving play back to the half-way line. However, an offside given against the hosts allowed Lyons to make the score 13-10 after he converted his penalty.
Immediately after the restart, Trinity had their backs against the wall again. A weak scrum in midfield from Tony Smeeth’s charges shifted play right back to their 22. Clontarf full-back Power was able to return the favour, assisting Reilly-Ashiru in his first try of the match. The conversion was missed, leaving the gap at eight.
Trinity managed to narrow the gap before half time. On 33 minutes Fennelly was able to convert a penalty right in front of the posts, following a solid carry from Ronan Quinn.
Both sides could have had scores before the whistle at 40 minutes, but handling errors ruled that the score stayed at 18-13 going into the break.
Clontarf continued to set the pace of the game in the second half. Sustained pressure from the away side led to several Clontarf scrums right on the try line. Trinity were unable to deal with the strength of the pack, and eventually conceded a penalty try to make it 25-13.
The response from the hosts was immediate – determined not to let the game slip away, the Trinity line broke into the Clontarf 22, before Patrick Nulty dived over for five. Fennelly missed his first kick of the afternoon and the gap remained at seven.
Clontarf went on to dominate the next 15 minutes of the game, their advantage in the scrum being used to full effect as they looked to put the game out of reach. Lyons’s attempted kick over the top of the Trinity defence was blocked down, but he recovered quickly to maintain the pressure. The break-down off another poor Trinity scrum allowed the fly-half to score another penalty, leaving it at 28-18.
DUFC were wilting – a deft offload collected by Matthew Darcy created space for Feeney to burst into the Trinity 22. The scrum-half evaded desperate tackles from the Trinity defence and grounded the ball near the posts. Lyons was on hand to stretch the lead to 17 points.
Trinity were unable to secure any meaningful possession as the Clontarf onslaught ensued. However, two yellow cards for the visitors changed the whole dynamic of the match. Trinity pushed on, with play being confined to the Clontarf 22 for several phases. Colm Hogan was almost over the line in the corner but was held up. Their persistence was rewarded – following a secured line-out, the referee had cause to award a penalty try to the hosts, cutting the gap to 10 points.
A dramatic sequence of play transpired following the restart: Clontarf were back in the Trinity 22 looking to consolidate their lead, with Lyons, Power and Angus Lloyd all at the centre of the action. They were on the cusp, before the referee blew for a penalty against Clontarf. Hogan took the penalty on his tryline quickly, sprinting out the 22 before releasing Rowan Osborne on the flank. The Leinster scrum-half ran the length of the field, evading Reilly-Ashiru’s efforts to scupper the move, before diving over the tryline. Fennelly’s conversion left the score at 35-32.
Trinity were rejuvenated. With the clock running down, captain James Hickey shouted encouragement before the restart as his side looked to ride the momentum swing. Michael Silvester, appearing for only the second time in the AIL this year, collected a poor Clontarf clearance before making a huge carry into the Clontarf half. Trinity’s progression was stunted, however, when Alan Francis was sinbinned after a rash tackle outside the Clontarf 22.
Trinity had to start from scratch. Winning a penalty after a scrum, they moved the play back into Clontarf territory. They secured a crucial lineout in the away side’s 22, but a knock-on ended the advance, the match rapidly slipping away from the hosts.
Clontarf put the result in no doubt with two minutes left to play. Their strength in the scrum again allowed the away side to make up considerable ground, with Dylan Donnellan carrying the ball into the Trinity 22. It was Andrew Smith who found the gap in the DUFC backline, crossing over in the corner to put the match out of sight. Substitute Conor Kelly added the final blow, adding to conversion to leave the final score at 42-32.
DUFC: Michael Silvester, Colm Hogan, Luis Faria, James Hickey, Ronan Quinn, James Fennelly, Rowan Osborne, Bart Vermeulen, Mark Nicholson, Thomas Clarkson, Reuben Pim, Neilus Mulvihill, Jonny McKeown, Max Kearney, Patrick Nulty.
Clontarf: Jack Power, Seni Reilly-Ashiru, Michael Brown, Matthew Darcy, Andrew Smith, Gearoid Lyons, Andrew Feeney, Ivan Soroka, Tadgh McElroy, Jack Aungier, Cormac Daly, Ben Reilly, Brian Deeny, Thomas Byrne, Michael Noone.