Keogh's late penalty gives Clontarf the edge over students
Full-back Rob Keogh came to Clontarf's rescue as his late penalty saw the reigning champions edge past UCD 22-20 in the AIL top division at the Belfield Bowl.
This was a repeat of last season's Division 1A semi-final and a league debut for new UCD head coach Andy Skehan, who gave starts to Ireland Sevens international Harry McNulty and Ireland under 20 captain James Ryan, newly signed from Lansdowne.
Clontarf wasted little time in hitting the front. Winger Rob McGrath turned a loose ball on halfway into a superbly-taken opportunist try, and five points soon followed from Keogh's reliable right boot. However, UCD found their rhythm entering the second quarter, with winger Cillian Burke slotting a penalty and then converting Stephen Murphy's try, which saw the centre open up a gap with a clever dummy. That made it 10-10 at half-time, and it was tit-for-tat in the early part of the second half. A scrum penalty saw Keogh add to his tally before a midfield break from McNulty teed up a response from Burke.
The momentum was with the students after Ireland under 20 flanker Greg Jones crashed over from a well-executed lineout maul, with Burke continuing his excellent form with the boot for 20-13.
But 'Tarf showed their winning mentality in a nail-biting conclusion. Two more penalties from Keogh, either side of a yellow card for UCD prop Liam Hyland, made it a one-point game with 10 minutes remaining. Both Burke and Keogh were off target in windy conditions before the latter made no mistake with a final place-kick to bring the points back across the Liffey.
At Templeville Road, Cork Constitution survived a late onslaught from hosts St Mary's College to claim a 20-16 win. Con captain Niall Kenneally's 41st-minute try had put 14 points between the sides and although out-half Sean Kearns inspired a fightback from Mary's, they had to settle for a losing bonus point.
A Kearns penalty on the stroke of half-time was Mary's only score of the first half as the Leesiders turned around with a 12-3 advantage. On their return to Division 1A, Mary's fell behind to a fifth-minute try from winger Rob Jermyn, who crossed in the right corner via passes from Kenneally and Max Abbott.
The injury-enforced departure of Kevin Sheahan, coupled with two penalty misses by Kearns, hampered Mary's and with 33 minutes on the clock, a break by Kenneally paved the way for winger Liam O'Connell to notch Con's second try. A third touchdown followed on the resumption, Jermyn breaking to send centre Kenneally crashing over. Tomas Quinlan's conversion was blocked by Terry Kennedy. Mary's dug their heels in, however, and Kearns fired over his second penalty. Soon, the visitors lost forwards Ger Sweeney and Conor Kindregan in back-to-back sin-binnings.
Just before Kindregan's return to the pitch, Kearns sidestepped his way through for a seven-pointer. He increased his influence with a curling penalty in the 73rd minute, cutting the gap to just 17-16. Mary's were hot on Con's heels, but Brian Hickey's men eventually prevailed, thanks to a coolly-struck injury-time penalty from out-half Quinlan.
Lansdowne launched their campaign with a 32-25 bonus-point victory away to Garryowen. The Light Blues battled back for a late losing bonus point at Dooradoyle, but the visitors were full value for their win.
Lansdowne were 26-10 and four tries to the good by half-time, Daniel McEvoy impressing with a brace; John O'Donnell and Ireland Sevens international Alan Bennie also touched down. Scott Deasy converted three of the tries and added two second-half penalties. The hosts' new forwards coach Denis Leamy would have been pleased to see their recovery from captain Neil Cronin's 50th-minute sin-binning and a spell of uncontested scrums.
Having been down to 12 players at one stage, Garryowen hit a purple patch with two tries in the space of five minutes from Johnny Keane and David Johnston. Scrum-half Cronin converted one of them and then split the posts with a key 75th-minute penalty to ensure his side got something out of the game.
Old Belvedere snatched a 36-35 injury time win at Clifford Park. The home side made a great start with a try after two minutes by Dan Walsh, which Paul Downes converted. By half-time, Old Belvedere led 18-13, with two tries by Danny Riordan being the highlight. In the second half, Darren Ryan's try and Downes' conversion nudged the home side in front. With time just up, Shane McDonald scored his second try for Old Belvedere and in the ninth minute of added time, Walsh added a second Young Munster try. Willie Staunton kicked 16 points against his former club.
In Division 1B, Mark Best was the star for Ballymena, who managed to take full points from their visit to Thomond Park (back pitch). The visitors led 25-13 at half-time, having dominated after Shannon jumped into a third-minute lead with a try by Richie Mullane which Ronan McKenna converted. Best had a try, which he also converted, to tie it up, but a Michael Langan try and another by Jordan Foster helped Ballymena to their half-time lead. The pace slackened in the second half with two McKenna penalties.
Meanwhile, reigning English Aviva Premiership champions Saracens preserved their 100 per cent record this season after hooker Jamie George's second-half try helped them see off Northampton 27-12 at Allianz Park.
George struck midway through the second period, and that was followed by a penalty try. Fly-half Alex Lozowski added five penalties and a conversion, with Saracens crucially scoring 12 unanswered points while Northampton prop Alex Waller was in the sin-bin.
Sunday Indo Sport