Nenagh Ormond U18.5 team lost the toss for home venue and had to travel to rivals Bruff for the North Munster U18.5 final on Sunday. The day was dry and not too windy, so all was set fair for the eagerly awaited rematch with Bruff, who we faced away already in the Pan Munster competition before Christmas, with the home side coming on top on that occasion. Nenagh started well again this week and after kicking off to Bruff, we had an attacking scrum and after a couple of phases Mason Cawley dummied his way through the defence to score on the left hand side and Darragh Gleeson kicked a good conversion to give us a 7-0 lead. As often happens in the modern game, Nenagh did not handle the kickoff exit well and we conceded a penalty for offside after 8 minutes and the Bruff outhalf kicked a penalty to close the gap. We had a couple of attacking opportunities in the Bruff 22 after that but there was maybe some nervousness and some handling errors allowed Bruff to relieve the pressure and make their way up field. Our backs were looking dangerous when we moved the ball to the edge and it was clear this was where we would have the upperhand. At this stage we were leaking a few penalties, mostly for creeping offside and the physical exchanges were lively as both teams were fully committed. Through some hard carries and a good lineout, Bruff made their way to our 22 and their strong Munster U18 backrow burst through three tackles to score near the posts, the conversion was good and Bruff were now 10-7 to the good. Again, we moved our way upfield with strong carries by Dylan Crowe, Sam Lancaster and Nickie Nie and on one attack with the ball again being moved to space, the Bruff outside centre was penalised for a deliberate knock on when we had players in space outside but was surprisingly not shown a yellow card. Darragh kicked the resultant penalty to tie the score at 10 all, with 8 minutes to go in the absorbing contest first half. However, again the exit was not good and a handling error when we tried to run the ball saw Bruff win a penalty for holding on and they kicked to the corner and Nenagh were back in their 22. There was some brilliant defence by Ivan Struzia, Jack Meagher and Cillian Ryan and all the teammates as we spent the final minutes of the half defending for our lives. We conceded a few more penalties and probably were lucky not to get a yellow for persistent offending as the pressure was massive at this stage. Bruffs main tactic was to use their strong forwards to carry close in but they switched to move the ball to the left winger, who had a lot of space with the try line in front of him but Conor McGrath made up massive ground to make a try saving tackle to save the day. After the attacking lineout we won a relieving penalty for holding on and the referee blew for half time, with the score locked at 10-10 and all to play for in the second half. This goal line stand would have a massive influence in the end and showed the heart of the boys who were fully committed to the cause. The second half began with Nenagh facing whatever wind was present and all to play for. Both teams were physical and after Bruff gained some good field position in our 22 we received a yellow card after 8 minutes for what the referee said was a tip tackle, which was very harsh but perhaps the accumulation of penalties before half time also had an influence. Down to 14 the situation got worse when Bruff scored a converted try soon afterwards to leave the 17-10 ahead and 20 minutes to go. Again the boys came back after a good kick off and we won a penalty that Josh Powell took quickly, Bruff were not back 10 and the referee brandished another yellow card for cynical play and it was 14 players aside for a while. The game was nip and tuck at this stage with a few handling errors by us hampering our attacking threats and Bruff won another penalty for holding on and kicked to the 22. We conceded a penalty at a lineout maul and Bruff looked to the posts and their 10’s kick was true and we were 20-10 down with 15 minutes to go. Things were looking bleak. After the kick off the game turned as Bruff received a straight red card for a dangerous tackle. Ivan unfortunately had to leave the field through injury after this incident, which in fairness to the Bruff player was not malicious and was mainly a timing issue. We attacked but were frustrated through small execution errors but Bruff kicked long to full back Darragh. We ran the ball back and from the ensuing ruck Josh Powell scampered down the touch line at pace, slowed to look at the covering player and immediately noticed it was the hooker and rounded him to race away for a fantastic breakaway unconverted try. The score now 15-20 to Bruff with 5 minutes to go. Bruff lost their influential scrum half to injury at this stage and the Nenagh tails were up as we hunted a winner. Some excellent backline play saw Mason released on the left hand touchline and he broke a tackle to head for the line and he was stopped at the corner flag by a high tackle, resulting in a penalty and a yellow card for the offender. Surprisingly a penalty try was not awarded and we kicked to the corner but we lost the lineout. We kept the pressure on though and were soon attacking again in the Bruff 22. We were awarded numerous penalties that we ran at this stage but Bruff’s defence was good and it looked like time might beat us before we got the crucial equalising score. With the competition rules a try would bring the score to 20 all and as we scored the first try we would have been champions, so the nerves were being severely tested for the large Nenagh travelling attendance. Then as we pounded away at the Bruff line the ball was transferred to the left wing, where despite the ball bouncing after a pass Mason snaffled the ball and sprinted to score near the corner flag for the all important try. Darragh kicked a magnificent conversion, followed by the final whistle. There were great scenes as the players celebrated the 22-20 comeback win to land the North Munster league for the first time for Nenagh Ormond since the age grade moved to 18.5. This was a performance of tremendous heart by the Nenagh players, who on the day did not produce their best rugby but stuck with the task and did not panic and pulled the game out of the fire in the last 10 minutes. Everyone played their part including the larger panel, some of which did not get on the field due to the closeness of the contest, but numbers 1-26 all played their part in preparing the team for the final outcome. Next up is a trip to Thomond Park main pitch to play the Bank of Ireland Munster Plate final versus Muskerry RFC on April 15th, at 1pm, with our U15’s playing in the Development Bowl that morning at 11am, also on the main pitch. Something for both sets of players and indeed club supporters in general to look forward to.
Team; Nickie Nie, Dylan Crowe, Jess Robbins, Cillain Ryan (capt) Sam Lancaster, Jack Meagher, Ivan Struzia, Fionn O’Meara, Josh Powell, Diarmuid Coleman, Conor McGrath, Jack O’Callaghan, Mason Cawley, Alex Maloney, Darragh Gleeson, Luke Grey, Luke Comerford, Mikey Morgan, Cathan Gaffney, Ryan Inhoff, Sean Tormey, Tommy Wilkinson, Tristen Madden, Dylan Doris, Dan Kenneally, Sean Ryan, Unavailable, Oisin Moloney