UCD 38 – Ballynahinch 31
UCD faced their toughest challenge in the league so far this season at the Belfield Bowl last Saturday. Gordon O’Callaghan reports
A high scoring encounter saw the Students beat top of the table Ballynahinch, maintaining their record as the only team in the division to remain unbeaten this season and pull level at head of the table.
UCD settled first when their number eight, Kevin Croke, was able to benefit from some good work by hooker Risteard Byrne who broke the line. Quick recycling by UCD meant that the back-rower was left with an easy finish on the right to give UCD first blood. Out-half James Thornton added the extra points.
One of the major faults with this UCD team is their lack of concentration after scores and again they were punished when Ballynahinch scrumhalf David Drake launched a massive up and under. UCD failed to deal with it and were put under pressure. Ballynahinch moved through the phases with out-half Ryan Bambry quick to spot fullback Adam Craig in acres of space on the right.
A perfectly floated cross-field kick found the fullback who put in to his supporting winger, Johnny Cullen, with a clever offload. Bambry landed a difficult conversion to level the scores.
The visitors were in the ascendency at this point, enjoying the majority of possession and territory. A couple of times they broke the UCD line only for individual errors to cost them.
In spite of Ballynahinch’s supremacy, a stroke of the ridiculous luck allowed UCD to score their second try of the day.
Ballynahinch knocked on from the base of the ruck and expected the referee to pull play back. However, he allowed play to continue and flanker Shane Grannell strolled over from 22 yards completely uncontested and made it 14-7 to the Students.
Taking advantage of their good fortune, UCD began to grow in stature as Ballynahinch faded away. The Students’s pack demolished their counterparts when Ballynahinch where awarded a scrum in their 22, forcing them to concede a lineout two yards from the line.
UCD secured the set piece and intelligent recycling allowed Kevin Croke to break the line and off load to the supporting John Conroy who crossed under the post. Thornton made it 21-7 with his third conversion of the day.
The league leaders, however, were not finished yet. Gathering possession, they held on to the ball phase after phase and finally found the space out wide for Johnny Cullen to cross for his second of the game. Ryan Bambry missed the conversion and Ballynahinch went into half time 21-12 down.
The frantic pace of the first half continued into the second period. The UCD pack again smashed the Ballynahinch scrum, wining the ball against the head and setting Shane Grannell and Kevin Croke storming into the opposition half.
The pair showed great hands and exchanged a couple of passes to leave the scrambling defence flat footed. Eventually, Croke crossed the line for his second. Thornton, again flawless from the tee, made it 28-12. Thornton then added a penalty to make it 31-12 a few minutes later.
Despite the UCD dominance, Ballynahinch were far from beaten and rallied once again. Their pack managed to gain parity in the scrum and used that to their benefit, as they were able to rumble over for a score. With a successful conversion, the scoreboard read 31-19.
UCD’s ability to attack from deep has been one of their strengths and has caused panic among defences this year, along with some sublime tries. Another one came from fullback Michael Twomey, as the collected from the base of a scrum and spotted a hole in the Ballynahinch defence and broke for the line from 50 metres.
With Thornton continuing his 100 per cent record, the Students went 38-19 up and appeared to have finally buried Ballynahinch. The incredible heart demonstrated by the visitors meant that, once again, they refused to throw in the towel.
Two tries in the dying moments, the first from a catch and drive off the lineout and a second from a rumbling ruck, pulled them within seven points of UCD and secured them two bonus points.
Fortunately for the hosts, it was all too late, as missed kicks and individual errors cost Ballynahinch in the end. UCD let their class do the talking and ran out deserved winners.
The next call of duty for the Students sees them travel to Clonakilty this Saturday. It should be an easier task than that of Ballynahinch, as Clonakilty currently find themselves in second last place with 31 points less than UCD.