J2 XV v Naas (H) by Ciaran Lennon –

St Mary’s College RFC 22
Naas 7
Metro League Div. 3
January 22, Templeville Road 

What started as a freezing January day ended with a fiery display from St Mary’s College J2s under Friday night lights, and a warm feeling of focus heading into a massive D6W derby next week.

The recent cold weather had threatened to put ice on this Metro League 3 home tie against Naas but, thankfully, Templeville’s roadside pitch obliged in thawing out in time. In the end, conditions were just about perfect, with a crisp, dry night and not a puff of breeze to be felt at all.

Mary’s we’re coming off the back of an assured second-half display and win away to Clontarf the previous week, and there was continuity on the team sheet – the hugely industrious Jack Grant coming into the side for Robert Beverland being the only change.

Led by captain Niall O’Donovan, who was prominent with ball in hand during the early exchanges, Mary’s bossed the opening few minutes. They showed intent in attack, with wing Finn Connolly threatening, and the reliable right boot (and left, at times) of fly-half James Bourke keeping Naas pinned back in their own half as Mary’s defended the Clubhouse end.

And that defence was resolute for most of the half, with the indestructible openside Rob Trew being a persistent menace to Naas runners, felling their carriers time after time.

Trew was also a nuisance at the breakdown, along with Bourkey and centre Ruadhan Magee, who all did great job of (legitimately) preventing Naas from getting quick ruck ball. The scrum also provided Mary’s with solid set-piece ball to attack from; Matty Fagan leading the charge from hooker.

The first try wasn’t long coming, as the home side were rewarded with a penalty in the Naas 22and opted to tap – possibly taking a leaf out of Leinster’s playbook – which saw tight-head Fionan Magee rumble over, after fellow prop David McGill made hard yards on the initial carry. Bourke duly obliged from the tee with the conversion.

With Mary’s applying pressure through territory, second-rows and lineout jumpers Shane Fanning and Morgan Mooney compounded Naas’s woes by competing in the air and forcing a number of crooked throws. And it was that lineout that provided the platform for the Blues’ second try.

With a Mary’s throw deep in the Naas 22, the ever-accurate Fionan hit Fanj and off-the-top ball was swept from left to right by scrum-half Cian Dalton. His pass hit Bourkey who floated the ball to Ruadhan, facing a number of defenders, but his swivelling hips and jinking feet made space before drawing the cover and releasing Niallo. The skipper still had work to do but used his pace and power to touch down in the corner. A tough conversion attempt was narrowly missed by Bourkey.

Naas had some big ball carriers up front; something that No.8 Mark ‘Pete Davidson’ Donellan felt the full brunt of towards the end of proceedings. And it was one of their big men who powered over, right at the post, as a result of a tap penalty in the Mary’s 22.

The Saints responded though and a fine Bourkey penalty saw the score 15-7 as the sides went in for the break.

The second half was a much scrappier affair; a number of stoppages for injuries and penalties taking the flow out of the game.

Despite letting Naas creep back into the game through ill discipline and an unforgivable penalty count, there was some ferocious defence on display by the home side throughout the second half – especially when down to 14 men from a yellow card for McGill.

Supporters needn’t have worried about the impact to the scrum, as prop Dave Rohan started where McGill left off, shunting Naas backwards. The sight of Dave coming on was very special for the whole squad, given his incredible work and determination to come back from a run of unfortunate injuries.

A couple of other defensive highlights included Cal Gray, despite the tights, smashing Naas attackers with a double hit in the space of a few seconds, and hooker-cum-flanker Chris Kane (on for Matty) sprinting the width of the pitch to make a vital covering tackle. Ruadhan’s ankle tap was another beauty.

But the sight of centre Andy McCarthy crunching a Naas attacker with Ruadhan swooping over the ball to win the penalty drew the loudest reaction from the Mary’s coaches on the sidelines. This energised Mary’s, who finished on a high, with the ever-green Gareth Logan on to add experience and power.

After some excellent work by Sloaner and the backs to set up territory in the left corner, Mooney fought for yards before Donners carried hard and Trew again punched a hole in the heart of the defence. From the ruck, the ball was swept wide and right for wing Kevin Jude Shihabira to touch down in the corner. Niallo added the extras with a peach from the touch line, leaving the score at 22-7.

A great result and a fine performance – Man of the Match Rob Trew the standout. But the squad and management know that league leaders Terenure will be the real test next weekend in Lakelands.