Having defeated Saturday’s opposition in a tight affair in Lisatunny before Christmas, Nenagh will not have been daunted by the challenge in Dub Lane last Saturday. However a closer look at the stats paints a different picture. Queens University very, very rarely lose matches at all, less so on home turf. In fact in the last two full AIL seasons plus the 11 rounds played this year so far, Queens had only tasted defeat in 9 of their 47 games played. If there’s anything this Nenagh Ormond team have proven this year however, it is their ability to click against the top ranking teams they have faced. In fact in consecutive weekends they have now taken the scalps of the top two teams in the league to blow the title race wide open. Queens may not have anticipated Saturday’s outcome but there are very few teams who will look forward to facing Nenagh in the remainder of this AIL campaign as the Ormond men go in search of a top 4 playoff spot.
Conditions were ideal on Saturday in Belfast and both sides showed a willingness to play positive rugby. It was Queens who made most of the running early on, looking to test the legs of the Tipperary men after the long bus journey north. Try as they might though they were faced by some stern Nenagh defence. As is often the case when enduring long passages of play without the ball though, Nenagh started to cough up penalties. Whether through arrogance or a determination to kill off the Nenagh challenge early, Queens spurned a few good opportunities to kick points and establish an early lead, favoring kicks to the corner where the Nenagh’s line stood firm for the opening quarter. However a chink in the armour did appear for Nenagh in a series of scrums in the Nenagh 22. Queens asserted some dominance taking a heel against the head and getting their winger over in the corner for the opening try which was converted for a 7-0 lead.
In response Nenagh kept it tight from the restart. Finally enjoying a sustained period of possession the forwards found that they were getting change from pick and go attacks close to the breakdown. Just as Nenagh had done earlier under pressure, the Queens defence started to cough up penalties. Nenagh too showed a desire for tries rather than kicks at goal and on two occasions tapped quickly to keep Queens on the back foot. The first effort was undone by a knock on but at the second time of asking Evan Murphy found a gap in the Queens rearguard to touch down for Nenagh. Conor McMahon’s extras tied up the score and with a half an hour played Nenagh knew they were more than up to this challenge.
Nenagh’s discipline let them down again on the resumption. A cheap penalty allowed Queens to kick for position once more, win the lineout once more and from some quick phases dot down in the corner once more. This time the conversion was wide. If Nenagh were to stay in this game their discipline had to be sharpened up!
For the next 5 mins or so play went on with a stalemate being fought out in the middle third. A score before half time would be a huge swing either way in terms of the final destination of the points in this game. A breakthrough was fashioned when Davy Gleeson, playing his 50th AIL match for Nenagh, kicked for position from his own half. He expertly found touch in the Queens 22 and Nenagh gained lineout possession based on the 50-22 rule.
Once in position the Ormond attack went through the gears once more and after some excellent phases Fionn McGibney, for the 2nd time in a week, found the gap to touch down beside the posts. The conversion sent Nenagh in at half time 14-12 to the good.
The second half was a slugfest of sorts again for the first 15- 20 mins. Both teams put strong passages together but defences held firm. Eventually around the hour mark pressure from Queens in the Nenagh 22 , thanks again mainly to their strong set piece, saw a penalty award for them under Nenagh’s posts. With the game in the balance they took the more pragmatic approach this time and kicked the three points to regain the lead.
Nenagh possibly would have been relieved to only concede three at this juncture. Despite struggles at the scrum in particular though they still looked threatening every time they could secure primary possession. With the last 15 mins reached Nenagh built pressure once more and as before, the penalty concession ensued. Like Queens earlier, there would be no tapping this one. Conor McMahon’s kick was good and the scoreboard swung once more in favour of Nenagh for a 17- 15 lead.
Both sides went in search of the final impact to put this tie to bed. While Queens seemed to tighten up a bit from their normal, free flowing approach; Nenagh seemed emboldened by how they were upsetting everyone’s expectations and leading late on. A number of dangerous breaks involving Josh Rowland in particular were only just held out by Queens. They eventually did however have to concede a lineout 5 metres from their own line. As they have done so often this year Nenagh set a very strong maul and when facing the inevitable Queens panicked and pulled it down on its way to the line. The referee showed no hesitation and awarded a 7 point Penalty Try.
Queens faced not alone the prospect of home defeat but even more unusually the prospect of coming away pointless with a 9 point deficit at 24-15. For the final passage of play they threw man, ball, kitchen sink and anything else they could muster at the Nenagh defence but massive credit to each and every man who featured in the red and white on the day, the Ormond line would not be breached.
Extracting 4 points from the Dub Lane venue was a massive result in the context of this season for Nenagh. They remain in 5th place, but with 6 games remaining there are now just 7 points separating the first and fifth places and Nenagh are just two points outside the promotion playoff positions. With two of the sides ahead of them to face, Nenagh have what any team would wish for going into the closing third of the campaign, the destiny of their season is truly in their own hands.
The league now takes a break for a fortnight but Nenagh do not. Next Saturday is a historic day in Lisatunny as Nenagh have their first ever home semi final in the Munster Senior Clubs Challenge Cup. Due to the Six Nations game later in the day, kickoff for the game vs Highfield is at the earlier time of 12.00pm. With free finger food available post match in the bar as well as live screening of the Ireland v Wales game there is no better place for local rugby fans to be next Saturday. What odds on an Ireland win and a historic first appearance for Nenagh in a Munster Senior Cup final? Not many will be willing to doubt it based on last Saturday’s performance.
Team (1-20): Mikey Doran, Dylan Murphy, Jack O’ Keefe, Jake O’ Kelly, Kevin O Flaherty, Rob Buckley, Evan Murphy, John O Flaherty, Nicky Irwin, Fionn McGibney, David Gleeson, John Healy, Willie Coffey(C), Conor McMahon, Josh Rowland, Peter O Connor, Seán Frawley, John Brislane, Patrick Scully, Derek Corcoran
Referee: Paul Haycock (IRFU)