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Belvo pushed all the way by Gonzaga but holders get campaign up and running

The first round of the Leinster Senior Schools Cup got underway at Donnybrook this afternoon.

Jamie O'Grady breaks clear of Gonzaga's Daniel Inglis.
Jamie O'Grady breaks clear of Gonzaga's Daniel Inglis.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Belvedere College 11

Gonzaga College 10

Ryan Bailey reports from Donnybrook

ABSORBING CUP RUGBY right until the very death, and although Belvedere, the defending champions, were given an almighty late scare, there was never a point in this game when you felt they weren’t going to get their three-in-a-row bid up and running.

It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means from Phil Werahiko’s charges, but with just two players back from last year, all the hallmarks from those winning campaigns were again evident here as they stood firm to advance.

Even allowing for the loss of Leinster U19 captain David Hawkshaw to injury in the first half, Belvo were always a step ahead of Gonzaga, who to their credit, threw everything at their opponents only to fall agonisingly short of launching their campaign with a major upset.

Robbie Kidney’s converted try gave Gonzaga late hope and it set-up a grandstand finish with just one point between the sides, but as they had done for the previous 70 minutes, Belvo’s rearguard held firm to ensure their safe passage through to the second round.

After an error-ridden and scrappy opening quarter, the holders soon hit their straps through Aaron Coleman and six points from the boot of fullback David Lacey had opened up an eight-point advantage for the Great Denmark Street school.

In the end, they needed it all but with a powerful pack, led by Ruadhan Byron and Gerard Hill, this was a display which not only sends out an early statement of intent, but one, worryingly for the competition’s other contenders, which leaves even greater room for improvement.

Mistakes and indiscipline were common threads throughout a stop-start opening period. After Jack Connolly failed to hang on to a swirling up-and-under, his Gonzanga team-mates were offside, only for Lacey — a member of the Dublin minor football team last year — to push his penalty attempt right of the posts.

Arthur Henry dejected Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Both sides were guilty of committing a series of infringements at the breakdown, and after a penalty advantage had come to nothing, Connolly — superb all afternoon in pulling the strings — got Gonzaga on the board with a well-struck effort from the tee.

With no real pattern to proceedings, and both Connolly and Lacey happy to exchange kicks from deep, possession changed hands regularly and it wasn’t until Belvo created an overlap out right that space opened up on either side.

Quick hands and a lovely line from Jamie O’Grady saw the centre burst through and wrap around the outside, only to lose control of the ball when Gonzaga fullback Fran O’Grady had scrambled brilliantly to cover the danger.

Belvo, through a mixture of direct, precise carries around the fringes, most notably from blindside Hill, began to turn the screw and the breakthrough came after a show-and-go break from scrum-half Ted Walsh.

He showed good acceleration to streak clear and then awareness to offload left to Coleman, who had run an excellent support line to get over despite the attention of two green shirts. Lacey struck the upright with the conversion attempt.

Gonzaga looked for an instant reply, and a poorly-executed box kick from Walsh sailed out on the full and gave the Ranelagh school prime attacking position, which prop Henry Godson took full advantage of with a powerful surge through midfield.

With referee Paul Haycock’s arm outstretched, Eoin Barr looked right and found the unmarked Fergus Ó h Oisín but Belvo quickly plugged the holes and Connolly then spurned the chance from the tee as he tugged the penalty attempt left.

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Belvo were dealt a huge blow moments before the break as they lost Hawkshaw with an arm injury, adding to their problems having been forced into an earlier change when prop Scott Barron hobbled off.

Not to worry, mind, as the holders stretched their lead to five points not long into the second-half after lock Alekseiy Soroka made the initial break from the halfway line and Gonzaga were pinged for not rolling away.

Aaron Coleman scores the first try Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

One of the hallmarks of  Gonzaga’s superb run to the semi-finals last year was their devastating ability to turn defence into attack and cut teams apart from deep, and Kidney very nearly set Jack Barry away only for Belvo to get numbers back and poach possession on their own line.

As the minutes ticked down, Gonzaga unloaded their bench in search of a spark and a route into the contest but indiscipline again cost them as the right boot of Lacey landed the insurance score for Belvo from the 10 metre line.

Gonzaga just wouldn’t go away, though. Out of nothing, Kidney eventually found the breakthrough to dive over under the posts and when Connolly slotted over the conversion, it was a one-point game.

The final exchanges were frenetic and tension-laden, with Gonaga given multiple opportunities to launch a late counter but the wall of black and white shirts proved immovable.

Belvedere scorers:Tries: Aaron Coleman
Penalties: David Lacey [2 from 3]
Conversions: David Lacey [0 from 1]Gonzaga scorers:Tries: Robbie Kidney
Penalties: Jack Connolly [1 from 2]
Conversions: Jack Connolly [1 from 1]

BELVEDERE COLLEGE: 15. David Lacey, 14. Matthew Grogan, 13. Jamie O’Grady, 12. David Hawkshaw (captain), 11. Alistair Loughrey, 10. Justin Leonard, 9. Ted Walsh; 1. James Gleeson, 2. Luke Harmon, 3. Conor Cagney, 4. Alekseiy Soroka, 5. Neil Howard, 6. Gerard Hill, 7. Aaron Coleman, 8. Ruadhan Byron.

Replacements: 16. Paul Twomey, 17. Jonathan Bell, 18. Mark Daly, 19, Joseph Haughey, 20. Cian Scott, 21. Patrick Lysaght, 22. John Meagher, 23. Alex O’Grady.

GONZAGA COLLEGE: 15. Frank O’Grady, 14. Fergus Ó hOisín, 13. Brian O’Donnell, 12. Arthur Henry, 11. Daniel Inglis, 10. Eoin Barr, 9. Jack Connolly; 1. Henry Godson, 2. Hugo Fitzgerald, 3. Simon Clear, 4. Eoin Buggy, 5. Caoilim Fassbender, 6. Ian O’Grady, 7. Jack Barry, 8. Robbie Kidney (captain).

Replacements: 16. Michael Gleeson, 17. Matt Meagher, 18. Mikey Holly, 19. Jack Coolican, 20. Liam Tyrell, 21. Max Colgan, 22. Hugh Gleeson, 23. Karl Morgan.

Referee: Paul Haycock.

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Ryan Bailey

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