Today marks the end of a long winter hibernation for DCU rugby. The stop-start nature of the college rugby season means today marks only DCU’s second competitive match of the season. It is coach Phil de Barra’s first year in charge and he would no doubt have preferred more early season matches in which to implement his game plan and mould his side.
Their only outing so far this season was a heavy defeat to Athlone IT. That is unless you count a walkover win against UUJ, which you shouldn’t. That hardly qualifies as ideal preparation for a match after a long layoff, but there are some reasons to be hopeful. Today’s fixture is against GMIT who currently sit bottom of the group table with two losses from two games.
So while DCU haven’t had many chances to get a win on the board, today is as good an opportunity as any. DCU currently lie third in their group behind Athlone IT and NUI Maynooth. The top three from each group make the quarter-finals, so a win against GMIT would be a big step towards securing a berth in the last eight.
While they didn’t compete with Athlone IT on the scoreboard, there were enough promising individual performances to suggest that DCU can improve considerably for the match against GMIT. DCU number eight, Isaac Porter, was the focal point for a lot of his side’s good play against AIT. Porter was able to get over the gainline with ease on almost every occasion and was able to free his hands in the tackle with regularity. Given how strong the Athlone side was, there is no reason to think Porter can’t replicate that showing against GMIT.
DCU had a slow first half against Athlone, but the switch of scrum half Cormac O’Leary to 10 invigorated the whole side. O’Leary exerted a control over proceedings that rubbed off on his teammates. The running lines were sharper, the offloading was better and more ground was being gained. And if O’Leary can get teammates involved to the same extent against GMIT, then DCU should be able to create a lot of opportunities.
In many ways the structure of the college rugby season is not conducive for a team that is looking to build on a week-to-week basis. Rather than games coming thick and fast, the fixture list is more thin and slow. Teams that recruit heavily through scholarships, such as AIT, are rewarded, while a team trying to build with new faces, like DCU, can have their development stunted.
But that doesn’t matter now. The next two weeks give DCU a chance to lay down a marker for their season, while also getting a better look at where they stand in relation to teams that have a similar talent base. It was always a monumental task to expect DCU to compete with Athlone after only having a few weeks with de Barra and the GMIT game will be interesting in seeing how far the DCU side have come since their opening day defeat.