Blackrock live to fight another day after holding their nerve to see off brave Castleknock
The 68-time winners were pushed all the way but eventually flexed their muscle to advance to the quarter-finals.

Blackrock College 46

Castleknock College 20

Ryan Bailey reports from Donnybrook 

FOR A SIGNIFICANT chunk of this see-sawing Leinster Senior Schools Cup clash, there was persuasive evidence to suggest Castleknock had enough about them to spring the competition’s first shock of 2018.

But Blackrock, chasing an elusive 69th title following four barren years, managed to hold their nerve and regain control of the tie having surrendered an early 14-point lead.

Blackrock College players greet the fans as they enter the pitch Oisin Keniry / INPHO Blackrock celebrate victory with their fans. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

The scoreboard suggests this was a comfortable afternoon’s work for Justin Vanstone’s side, but it was anything but as they were given a real scare by a Castleknock outfit who showed enormous character and spirit to recover from a slow start.

Tries either side of half-time from Max Mellett and Conor Neville reignited the game as a contest but with the scores level at 20-20 and a grandstand finish in store, Blackrock then moved through the gears again to flex their considerable muscle.

Fullback Stephen Madigan finished with 21 points, including a brace of tries, while hooker Sean Molony and number eight Michael McGagh both crossed twice as Castleknock’s brave challenge faded away in the final quarter.

In the end, ‘Rock scored seven tries and had a 26-point buffer to show for their efforts with Madigan and scrum-half Ross Barron both impressing in the backline, while Sean O’Brien, James Burke and McGagh all provided industry in the engine room.

Huge credit must go to Castleknock, coached by former Ireland out-half Jeremy Staunton, who had a real go and on another day could very well have pulled off a major result.

But it’s Blackrock who live to fight another day, as they advance to Friday’s quarter-final draw with their campaign up and running, albeit after a real test of their credentials.

From the first whistle, they looked to stamp their authority on proceedings and as they raced into a three-try lead, one-sided game was a distinct possibility.

Out-half James Tarrant pinged a penalty deep into Castleknock territory and when the driving maul picked up a head of steam, there was only going to be one outcome — although referee Tim Townend firstly said it had been held up, before deciding that the ball had been grounded, by McGagh, under a pile of bodies.

Tries number two and three were shortly on their way, despite the boot of Cian Egenton getting Castleknock on the board.

Blackrock don’t appear to contain the same physical punch up front as some of their competitors — an assertion based purely on size — but what they do have is a dynamic and mobile pack, who ensured clean and quick ball for their lethal backline to cause damage.

Max Mellet scores a try Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Big carries from McGagh and then Burke brought them up towards the Castleknock line and although ‘Rock were initially held up, the resulting five metre saw Barron dart around the short side and pop it for Madigan, who had run a beautiful line from deep to finish from close range.

Barron was heavily involved in the next score, too, as his step inside and a deft offload for the supporting O’Brien set the second row free for the line. ‘Rock’s wide running game and ability to keep the ball alive in the tackle complements their pack’s hard-hitting work around the fringes.

Castleknock, to their credit, managed to take the sting out of ‘Rock’s initial onslaught with a period of sustained possession of their own, and as they grew in confidence after Tom Maher was sent to the bin for a dangerous tackle, were rewarded on the stroke of half-time.

Egenton kicked for the corner, and the pack maintained the forward momentum with a series of powerful drives, and with a penalty advantage, spread it out wide where the space appeared to open up for centre Max Gerhardt only for Madigan to come bolting off the line to hit man and ball.

Back we went, though, and the relentless pressure eventually told as scrum-half Neville took the penalty quickly to allow Mellett dive over the top. A lifeline for the eight-time winners and their tails were up.

Seven minutes into the second half, they were level. A turnover penalty in midfield set the platform and after another period of patient and controlled possession, Neville caught ‘Rock napping out wide and ran it home uncontested. 17-17. Game on.

Max Mellet celebrates scoring a try with Max Gerhardt Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

But it only served to wake ‘Rock up and after Madigan and Egerton had exchanged penalties, Vanstone’s charges upped the tempo and in scoring four more tries, ensured there would be no slip-up on their part.

Madigan grabbed his second of the day after a brilliant looping pass off his wrong side from Barron and then Molony was the man to finish another powerful rolling maul in this near corner.

The hooker went over again shortly after and the scoring was rounded off by the impressive McGagh, much to the delight of the Blackrock supporters in the stands.

Blackrock scorers:Tries: Sean Molony [2], Stephen Madigan [2], Sean O’Brien, Michael McGagh [2]
Penalties: Stephen Madigan [1 from 1]
Conversions: Stephen Madigan [4 from 7]Castleknock scorers:

Tries: Max Mellett, Conor Neville
Penalties: Cian Egenton [2 from 2]
Conversions: Cian Egenton [2 from 2]

BLACKROCK COLLEGE: 15. Stephen Madigan, 14. Rory Madigan, 13. Liam Turner (captain), 12. Tom Maher, 11. Harry Donnelly, 10. James Tarrant 9. Ross Barron; 1. Donnacha Mescal, 2. Sean Molony, 3. Thomas Clarkson, 4. Sean O’Brien, 5. Jack Stapleton, 6. James Burke, 7. Josh Dixon, 8. Michael McGagh.

Replacements: 16. Luke Mion, 17. Hugo O’Malley, 18. John Kirby, 19. Daniel Foley, 20. Jack Loscher, 21. Louis O’Reilly, 22. Gavin Jones, 23. David Fitzgibbon.

CASTLEKNOCK COLLEGE: 15. Ben Culliton, 14. Daire Turley, 13. Max Gerhardt, 12. Jamie McGaley (captain), 11. Luke McMenamin, 10. Cian Egenton, 9. Conor Neville; 1. Sean Picard, 2. Evan Chester, 3. Stephen Callinan, 4. Max Mellett, 5. Ciaran O’Flynn, 6. Ciaran McCarrick, 7. Adam Corcoran, 8. Cian Clancy.

Replacements: 16. Stephen Quinn, 17. Matthew Holton, 18. Ethan Keogh, 19. Daniel Waldron, 20. Fergus Stanley, 21. Rob O’Farrell, 22. Adam Malone, 23. Jack Roche.

Referee: Tim Townend.

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