DCU Force 3
IT Carlow 10
Brendan Johnson Cup quarter-final
IT Carlow narrowly edged out DCU Force in their quarter-final clash in the Brendan Johnston Cup on a cold Wednesday night in Coolmine RFC.
Defending champions Carlow ultimately made more of their opportunities in what was an extremely evenly-matched tie.
DCU started slowly, with their scrum immediately under pressure from an enormous Carlow front row. Sensing this weakness Carlow won the ball against-the-head, and with the DCU defence not set they managed to exploit space on the blindside.
Quick hands from the Carlow forwards set winger Seamus Curran free, and despite the best efforts of his opposite number Sam Murphy he managed to touch down for the opening try of the game, which flyhalf Aiden McDonald failed to convert.
Despite conceding early DCU settled into the game, and began to dominate both possession and territory.
The Force found themselves camped in the opposition 22, but mistakes at key moments repeatedly killed hard-earned momentum, although credit must go to a well-drilled Carlow defence.
A loose Carlow kick and beautiful balanced footwork from DCU’s Adam Swann brought the Force back into Carlow territory, and after eventually bringing the fullback down Carlow were penalised for not releasing. Scrumhalf Peter Wright converted to bring the score to 5-3, and gave DCU their deserved reward for a long period of pressure.
The remainder of the first half was scrappy and error-strewn, with both sides repeatedly handing back possession to the other through knock-ons and cheap penalties. Neither team could threaten a score before the interval, leaving DCU trailing by two at half-time.
Carlow started the second half as strongly as they did the first, and scored their second try following a period of sustained pressure on the DCU line, with fullback Rhys Davies crossing to put Carlow 10-3 ahead.
DCU were let off the hook as Carlow missed three kickable penalties in the space of ten minutes, which, if converted, would likely have put the defending champions out of sight.
It made for a compelling finish however, as the Force sensed their opportunity to cause an upset with only one converted try separating the sides and launched wave after wave of attacks on the Carlow line.
After some strong carries from the forwards, the ball was spread wide to David Molloy who looked certain to score in the corner, but excellent, desperate Carlow defence forced the winger into touch just short of the line.
The pressure was relieved as number 8 James O’Dea was penalised for not rolling away and, as so often on the night, a poor mistake appeared to kill DCU’s momentum.
However, O’Dea immediately redeemed himself, stealing the ball from the resulting line-out and giving DCU another opportunity to attack.
In a frantic final few minutes possession changed hands several times as neither side seemed able to exert control on the game.
With time nearly up, the Force found themselves with a lineout deep inside the Carlow 22. The ball was gathered at the front by replacement prop Morgan Mooney, but the throw was deemed to be crooked by the referee, handing Carlow a scrum and with it likely the game.
Carlow safely negotiated the final scrum and kicked clear to secure their victory and a spot in the semi-final.
Despite the loss DCU Force coach Eoin Sheriff praised his side’s performance against formidable opposition.
“I can’t fault anything really,” Sheriff said.
“We were up against a college who have a designated rugby course. Carlow are the reigning champions, they probably train together three times a week, we’ve probably trained twice since Christmas.”
“Small mistakes are going to happen when you’re not used to playing with each other, that familiarity probably showed in the end,” Sheriff said.
“To be fair to Carlow they took their chances off those scraps, and that’s the sign of a good team”.
This was a sentiment echoed by Carlow boss Corey Carty
“I think we took our opportunities, especially in the first half,” he said.
“DCU definitely showed that can play with the ball, and their attitude was definitely not to give us the ball. I think we’re going to have to get a little bit smarter about that, and definitely we’re going to have to work on that for the next game.”
DCU: Eoin Ferry, Conor Maguire, Luke O’Callaghan, Michael Gordan, Eoin Lewis, Oisin Rowe, Matthew Keane, James O’Dea, Peter Wright, Elliot Stone, David Molloy, Ger Young, James O’Kane, Sam Murphy, Adam Swann
Replacements: Koh Seonsa, Morgan Mooney, Ryo Nakagawa, Patrick Thornton, Jorge Cordoba, Eamonn Walsh, Michael Savage
IT Carlow: Martin Mulhall, Ntinga Mpiko, Ola Ogunkoya, Jack Nolan, Joe Carley, Ronan Scott, Michael Russell, Nick Doyle, Isaac Daly, Aiden McDonald, Seamus Curran, David Murphy, Patrick Connors, Calum Finnegan, Rhys Davies
Replacements: Shayne Fleming, John Murphy, Graham Brennan, Calum Murphy, Idris Rqibi
Image Credit: World Rugby Shop