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'Rock must roll Wood

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YOU have to look back to 2004 for the last time Blackrock and Clongowes Wood went toe-to-toe in the Beauchamps Leinster Schools Senior Cup final.

In that one, 'Rock eased away to a 24-9 win to capture their title. They have since added three more to take their overall total to 67.

It says everything about the long and illustrious tradition of Blackrock that even in a season when they have a dominant pack of forwards they never turn away from the fluid, fast, open style that has always been their way forward.

Once again, this was seen to special effect when centre Jack Power and wing Zach O'Hagan each plundered a pair of touchdowns from their five-strong haul in the 34-14 defeat of Newbridge at Donnybrook last Sunday.

In fact, their captain and number eight Nick Timoney showed up on the left wing for their fifth, far away from the fringes where he wreaked havoc.

There were areas of concern for coach Peter Smyth as the 'Bridge splintered their defence of the maul and caused trouble when they could get away from the menace of Conor Oliver at the breakdown.

The former Leinster hooker Smyth had his pack well-tutored at the scrum with the front row of Jeremy Loughman, Hugo Keane and Dane Fitzpatrick rock solid and more in that department.

The half-backs Tristan Brady and Sean Kearns are not the biggest physical specimens, but they are gifted footballers, and they have enjoyed an armchair ride from their pack, in which lock Dave O'Connor, Timoney, flanker Oliver and Loughman have been imperious.

The Ireland Schools coach Noel McNamara has worked with all or most of the 'Rock regulars and he is best-placed to exploit any weaknesses that exist.

What Clongowes will bring is the discipline borne out of trust and the organisation developed through their unrivalled time together as a boarding school.

They also have a physical advantage along their three-quarter line. It is the biggest in the competition and direct with it.

The Wood were staring down the barrel of an upset no one saw coming when they trailed St Andrew's 7-3 at the halfway point of the second semi-final on Tuesday.

It was a test of character to which they had the answers. Flanker Josh Pim charged over, wing Cian O'Donoghue picked up a loose ball and number eight Stephen McVeigh burst through for their third try, while Alan Hughes (pictured, opposite page) kicked nine points for a 27-12 victory.

"If we're being entirely honest, we are lucky to come out the right side of it," said McNamara.


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