It’s that time of year again and Irish Schools Rugby is back in the spotlight with the start of all four provincial cup competitions.
There is something special about schools rugby. It’s a time every rugby player remembers clearly, no matter what level you go on to play or success you achieve. I am currently involved in the coaching set up with St Mary’s. It is something that I thoroughly enjoy and on a coaching level, is something I am learning greatly from on a day-to-day basis.
Arguably Irish Schools Rugby is second only to professional Pro12 rugby in the country in terms of the buzz, interest and certainly TV coverage it gets. The commitment and schedule for the lads involved will be very similar to that of a pro rugby player, just that they are in school for their free time! There will be a total of 3 to 4 gym sessions a week, with another 3 to 4 sessions on the pitch, along with a game on Wednesday or Saturday (or both). All this hard work is clear to see when someone attends any Irish Schools Rugby cup match. It is some of the best rugby on show at any level. A clear commitment to the cause is a given but the quality, with accurate, quick and often adventurous play is what stands out. Never was this more clear to see than for anyone that was lucky enough to attend or tune into eir Sport live for the Clongowes v St Fintans Leinster Schools Senior Cup first round tie last week.
St Fintans got exactly the start that any school debuting in the main competition would want to get. They flew out of the traps, scoring 3 unanswered tries in the first half. There were many on Twitter that speculated the game was over at half time but they didn’t count on the quality and grit of the Kildare school.
Clongowes, who had the 2016 Tignes Rugby Academy graduate Calum Doyle in their matchday squad, started the second half with a bite to their play that was almost entirely absent in the first half. They scored an early try and the world and it’s mother must have thought that the floodgates would now open and St Fintans would fold. On the contrary, right from the kick off, ‘Fintans’ piled on the pressure as Clongowes tried to exit. The St Fintans tight head prop Jack Aungier, who was like an extra back rower on the pitch for the whole day, blocked down a box kick and showed some delicate soccer skills to touch down. The game continued in that vein, with the two sides trading scores.
One of the main talking points and certainly a key turning point was the 65th sending off of St. Fintans’ Daragh Kelly for a second yellow card offence. It is always unfortunate when a referee decisions have such a dramatic effect on the outcome of a game and it was a particularly harsh call in my opinion. Going to bin and even more so a second yellow card in the dying minutes of knockout cup game for the first penalty in that sequence of the play is a severe sanction. Despite the handicap, St. Fintan’s still held out until the dying minutes, showing supreme doggedness and tons of heart. They finally folded to the relentless Clongowes green zone attack and with that converted try, the hot favourites brought a slender two point lead into the last 2 and half minutes of play.
And the Irish Schools Rugby gods weren’t finished. With the clock ticking over the 70 minute mark, St Fintans snatched a turnover and with it one more chance. With time up, they had no option but to tap and go, throwing everything at a final push for territory and a chance for three points. Six phases later, after some great attack play, they got their shot with a penalty awarded just inside the Clongowes half, wide on the right, between the halfway and 10 metre line. It was a tough shot for any kicker but representative player Frankie O’Dea stood up to take the responsibility and despite striking it well and true, the ball dropped only a few feet short. And with that, Clongowes were through and one of the biggest upsets in Leinster Senior Cup history was averted.
With time and perspective, the St Fintans squad and coaching team will take a lot of pride and invaluable learnings from the experience. Truly, all involved in the school set up should take a bow. Their ten year journey has been nothing short of incredible. To the squad – you did all students past and present, the staff and your families proud. I have no doubt that the structures, resources and coaching team that are in place, led by impressive coach Robert Forbes, will make deliver even greater cup days ahead. Mark my words, we will see St Fintans in the latter stages of the Cup in the next few years.
And a word of congratulations to eir Sport for their backing of both the Leinster and Munster Senior Cup competitions this season. This was the first live game of the schools rugby season and it was a thriller, only building expectation for the upcoming coverage of all the remaining Leinster Senior Cup ties plus the semi finals and final of the Munster Senior Cup. And what a showcase for the players and an inspiration for the next generation of rugby players across the country. For all the knocking that Irish Schools Rugby has had over the years (the Ross O’Carroll Kelly culture and all that satire), it remains a rich breeding ground for future talent and arguably Irish rugby’s greatest and only weapon to counter the deep pockets of the French and English clubs.
Read the full match report on the42.ie http://www.the42.ie/clongowes-v-st-fintans-leinster-schools-rugby-3214697-Jan2017/
UK & Ireland Sales Manager