Rampaging Byrne leads Clongowes rout of Belvo
Clongowes 43 Belvedere 10
If anyone out there doubts Clongowes' credentials to make it three in a row, they should reassess their view rapidly.
Tougher tests undoubtedly lie ahead, but on the evidence of this five-try opening-round outing at Donnybrook, the reigning champions are the team to beat. From loosehead prop and skipper Edward Byrne to replacement utility back Cian O'Donoghue, they are the real deal, without any identifiable weakness.
True to tradition, they do the simple things well. When you field as formidable a front-row as the Byrne brothers and Daniel O'Byrne, it makes for a pretty solid foundation.
Not since Nick Popplewell went on those bulldozing runs many moons ago have I witnessed front-row forwards so comfortable in possession.
If this is indicative of the quality of props and hookers coming through the under-age system, then the future of Irish front-row play is in good nick.
It wasn't as if Belvedere played badly. They started brightly, but by the 10th minute had been blown away as the superbly drilled Clongowes unit moved up through the gears.
Conor Mahony landed a fourth-minute penalty to settle any nerves. Then, in a red hot spell, we had Edward Byrne at auxiliary scrum-half feeding Daniel O'Byrne, who rampaged his way through several would-be tacklers to the line. Mahony tacked on the extras on his way to a personal tally of 18 well-struck points.
Soon, the electric Max McFarland cut the defence apart again before linking with Conor McQuaid, Mahony and burly centre Ciaran O'Hanrahan, who ran in for try number two.
Such was the collective quality, it is unfair to single out individuals, yet the pace and panache of half-backs McQuaid and Mark Nicholson and full-back McFarland was particularly impressive. McQuaid got the third try after fine work from Nicholson as Clongowes took a 28-3 lead into half-time, with Belvo's penalty coming from the boot of full-back Daragh Kennedy.
McQuaid soon added a fourth try and Stephen Kealan a fifth as Clongowes hit overdrive.
However, inspired by the brilliant Kennedy, Belvo stuck at it and were rewarded in the final minute when Mark Kelly and Cillian O'Sullivan combined in a sweet scissors movement for a well-deserved try under the posts for the latter.
But the over-riding message from Donnybrook was crystal-clear -- Clongowes' three-in-a-row attempt is going to take some stopping.
Clongowes -- N Rhatigan; C Mahony, C O'Hanrahan, S Fromm, M McFarland (C O'Donoghue 58); M Nicholson (G McVerry 53), C McQuaid (J Sullivan 53); E Byrne (capt, R Collins 64), B Byrne (D Garty 64), D O'Byrne; J Paul, R Daly; J Wallace (D Donnellon 41), S Kealan, P Timmons (S Mulholland 55).
Belvedere -- D Kennedy; N Hubbard, C O'Sullivan, F Sullivan, A Larkin; S Baird (M Kelly 35), C O'Leary; T O'Hara (S Mcdonnell 40), G Doyle (I Soroka 40), E Lysaght; S Gaine (O Waldron 67), D Fernee; I Guiran (E Heneghan 54), T Gibbons, R Mullen (capt).
Ref -- E O'Dowd (Leinster).