Lansdowne take first ever AIL title with win over Clontarf
LANSDOWNE have secured their first ever Ulster Bank League title with a 32-27 victory over Clontarf at the Aviva Stadium.
This pulsating game produced seven tries with four for Mike Ruddock's side who stretched their lead at the head of the AIL Division 1A to 24 points.
Man of the match and double tryscorer Mark Roche speaking after the game said: "Clontarf played well and for the 80 minutes they made it so tough. Fair juice to the lads and Clontarf as well they put up a huge challenge."
Clontarf took a second minute lead though, Richie Lane punishing Tadhg Beirne for being caught offside with a penalty.
In the 22nd minute, a neat back-line move sparked by Ronaldson saw crafty centre Roche make an initial break and he popped the ball to the supporting Sean Carey who evaded two defenders on the way to the try-line.
Roche had a livewire presence in the Lansdowne back-line, charging through midfield again just three minutes later. Ruddock's side kept pressing and Roche popped up in the left corner to score past covering full-back Matt D'Arcy to make it 14-3.
On the half hour mark, 'Tarf threatened from a five-metre lineout and a well-executed maul was rewarded with a try from the increasingly influential Frank Cogan.
The margin was down to four points once more after Lane's pinpoint conversion from the right, with a real tit-for-tat nature to the proceedings.
A lovely left-footed drop goal from Ronaldson steadied Lansdowne before the break, taking his huge haul for the league campaign to 203 points.
But another crisply-hit three-pointer from Lane maintained his 100% kicking record and reduced the arrears to 17-13 for half-time.
Clontarf hit the front in the 47th minute when bustling flanker Simon Crawford broke away from a ruck to raid in under the posts.
Lane added the extras but Lansdowne were soon level thanks to a central penalty from Ronaldson, with Clontarf replacement prop Ben Barclay earning a yellow card for a needless charge on Clive Ross.
Landsdowne's number eight Ron Boucher picked up the ball at the base of a powerful scrum shove from the Lansdowne pack to dot down. Roche landed the conversion for a 27-20 lead.
With two minutes left, replacement centre Colm O'Shea slipped away from two defenders to score 'Tarf's third try - yet the usually reliable Lane, who made the initial break in the lead up to the try, watched his conversion attempt come back off the left hand post.
It was cruel luck on 'Tarf who showed great resilience to hang in there, but the new champions made certain of their ninth successive league victory in the dying minutes.
Second row Beirne missed out on a try when referee Eddie Hogan O'Connell could not spot the grounded ball under a pile of bodies.
'Tarf looked to have weathered the storm until Ronaldson ripped the ball free from Matt D'Arcy's grasp. Lansdowne's replacement scrum half Marcus Walsh was hauled down close to the line, and fittingly it was Roche who reached out for the line to complete the scoring.