DCU Rugby fall to narrow defeat in cup quarter final

Shane Brennan

DCU vs Ulster University in the Brendan Johnston Cup quarter-final.

DCU 33 – Ulster University 36

Failure to capitalise on late chances saw DCU fall to a three point defeat in the Brendan Johnston Cup in Sutton on Wednesday.

Ulster University grabbed the win thanks to a hat-trick from number 8 Joel Stanbridge and a second-half burst where they posted 19 unanswered points.

The game started with a series of four scrums for Ulster within the DCU 22, the visitors looking strong on all four. The scrums carried them close enough to the try line for Stanbridge to take the ball from the scrum and score the games opening try.

In DCU’s first possession they showed the aerial strength needed to win the ball from the restart, but early handling errors including in the games first lineout meant that attacking was slow for the first few phases.

However, a great burst of speed from number 8 Ruadhan Byron gave DCU the energy needed for a response, his handoff to JJ O’Dea creating their first try. The conversion from Adam Swan levelling the game at 7 apiece.

As Ulster chased for a responding score, scrum half Lewis Finlay made good use of any space made left by DCU after a ruck, so much so that when they drew a penalty shortly after the restart Ulster fly half Matthew Norris was close enough to score his second kick if the day and make the score 10-7 after 15 minutes.

DCU’s scrum improved as the game wore on, and the middle part of the first half was characterised by strong defensive work by both sides.

Near the half’s end missed tackles and open space led to more deep runs, the most impressive being a 50 metre dash from Lewis Finlay.

However this did not result in a score, and a long period if possession for DCU after a turnover finished with a try and conversion for Adam Swan, wrapping up some clinical passing play and a 20 metre gain from JJ O’Dea.

After the restart Ulster turned a penalty given 20 metres from the try line into 4 scrums that drove Stanbridge over for his second of the night and gave Norris his second conversion.

DCU prop Michael Power was also sent to the sin bin for not driving straight after the fourth scrum.

Before the break DCU posted another converted try, this time touched down by Dan McCaffery, and Ulster’s Matthew Norris missed a chance to add another three points after DCU gave away yet another penalty.

Just two points separated the teams at half time, DCU leading 19-17.

The dream second half start came for DCU, two tries within five minutes and two conversions.

The first coming from an impressive run down the left wing by full back Sam Murphy, who got the ball after a deft handoff and carried the ball to get the half s opening score.

The second came after an excellent handoff by Adam Swan to release Kevin McLoughlin through the middle of Ulster’s defence, who passed to prop Eoin Ferry to make the score.

Both of these tries were a result of DCU’s improved discipline in passing and running, however these would be the last points that DCU scored all game.

A 33-17 deficit faced Ulster in the remaining half hour, and they responded to DCU’s early brace with a converted try from their first possession after the restart.

Stanbridge’s third try of the game closely followed, a result of brute force attacking that was very demanding for the DCU defence. After Norris missed the conversion the scoreline was 33-29.

With the momentum on the side of Ulster University, DCU struggled to gain a good spell of possession, and in defence were showing signs of tiring with some missed tackles.

The Ulster comeback was completed with a converted try scored by Scott Agnew, who bypassed the DCU defence down the wing after Ulster quickly reacted to being given a penalty.

DCU had plenty of promising play in the rest of the half, often getting frustratingly close to the tryline.

Both teams performed well as the intensity grew, every turnover being met with a sea of manly roars, either celebrating a mini win for their team or agonising over losing the ball.

At 36-33, a penalty given to DCU in line with the posts was the perfect opportunity to level the score.

However, the kick was just a few metres too far for Adam Swan, who’s kick didn’t have the power to fight the coastal wind and sail over the crossbar.

There were numerous incidents where DCU had the momentum to finish the game with a winning score, but we’re undone by a key tackle from Ulster or a handling error.

The final move of the game was a cross field kick that flew over the heads of the players and into touch, allowing Ulster to finish the game and seal a win in the capital.

The victors go on to play IT Carlow in the semi-final of the Brendan Johnston Cup, whereas for DCU dreams of cup success are shelved for another year.

Teams:

DCU: Sam Murphy, Cian Browne, Adam Swan, Kevin McLoughlin, Ciarán Fennessy, Evan Palmer, Mark Farrell; Eoin Ferry, Zak Coen, Michael Power, JJ O’Dea, Oisín McCormack, Dan McCaffrey, Matthew Keane, Ruadhan Byron.

Replacements: Alex Mitic, Saiki Seioga, Luke O’Callaghan, Harry McCafferty, Seán O’Connell, Oran O’Donoghue, Elliot Stone, Tommie Keane.

Ulster University: Jack Lewis, Joe Murphy, Conor Agnew, Dennis Posternak, Callum Whiteside, Matthew Norris, Lewis Finlay; Callum Smyth,  Tim Savoury, Paul Mullan, Jake  Stevenson, James Longwell, Adam Milligan, David Cave, Joel Standbridge.

Replacements: Cillian Butler, Jonathon Crowe, Scott Agnew, James Miller, Alexandre Renaud.

Shane Brennan.

Image Credit: Student Sport Ireland / Twitter.