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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 4 March 2021

Blackrock get title defence up and running but are pushed all the way by Pres Bray

The Leinster Senior Cup protagonists are safely through to the second round after an entertaining game at Donnybrook.

Blackrock College 25

Presentation College Bray 19

Ryan Bailey reports from Donnybrook 

YOU CAN ONLY marvel at the capacity of the Blackrock College nursery to consistently produce teams of such outstanding quality. The class of 2019 are next up, and, on this early evidence, they’ll be the team to beat again this year. 

This may only have been the first assignment of their Leinster Senior Schools Cup defence, and certainly there are areas for improvement, but it was a solid marker to lay down to the pretenders of their thrown. 

Tim D'Arcy runs in a try despite Christopher Lawles and Jordan Mortell Sam Small goes over for Blackrock's second try. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A powerful, yet dynamic, ball-playing pack supplemented by a classy half-back pairing in Matthew Cullen and David Fitzgibbon makes Justin Vanstone’s side a joy to watch — but a fearless Pres Bray side pushed them all the way here. 

It didn’t take Blackrock long to hit their straps and by the time half-time arrived, they had already raced into a commanding 15-0 lead thanks to first-half scores from winger Niall Comerford and outside centre Sam Small.

A rout looked on the cards at that juncture, but the defending champions took their foot off the pedal in the second period. That, to be fair, was as much down to Pres Bray’s resolve and it was a credit to their players and management that they made Blackrock work right until the last minute for their quarter-final berth.

The Wicklow school conjured an admirable response after the break and made a real game of it through tighthead prop Darren Magee and then a blistering score, finished by fullback Samuel O’Dowd.

But Blackrock had done much of the legwork and regained the momentum to finish the job at the other end, replacement hooker Scott Barron driving over to seal the deal and a passage through to Friday’s draw.

There were standout performers all over the park in light blue and white. Captain Sean O’Brien — another blindside of that name — led from the front, the second row pairing of Mark Morrissey and Joseph McCarthy look the real deal and Cullen’s distribution and game management from scrum-half belies his tender years. 

At this level, a reliable placekicker is always a powerful weapon and in Fitzgibbon’s right boot, coupled with a pacy set of outside backs, Blackrock have more than enough firepower in their armoury to mount a serious title defence as winter turns to spring. 

They wasted little time in demonstrating their championship credentials on a bitterly cold afternoon at Donnybrook. With the forwards providing quick ball for scrum-half Cullen to fire passes off both sides, their pacy backline had the platform to cut loose.

Ronan McGoldrick and Mick O'Gara Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Pres Bray, to their credit, defended stoically for large periods but Blackrock’s relentlessness in possession was too much to contain in the first stanza. 

The breakthrough score was just four minutes in coming, as Small sent O’Brien skating through, and with Comerford in tow, the winger had the straightforward task of finishing in the far corner. 

Even when Pres Bray did get their hands on the ball, and they were marshalled superbly by scrum-half Ben Murphy, the son of Ireland kicking and skills coach Richie, the blue and white wall was aggressive in defence.

The physicality of the contest was beginning to take its toll on the Wicklow school, too. Both Stephen Corry and Sam Kearney required running repairs for blood injuries during the opening quarter, an indication of the efforts required to simply stay with ‘Rock.

As it was, the 69-time winners remained patient with ball in hand and, through their dominance up front, were able to create the space for their backs to clinically expose. Captain Gavin Jones fixing the defender on this occasion, before releasing Small for the line. 

Out-half Fitzgibbon added the conversion and then tacked on a couple of penalties either side of the half-time interval to keep the scoreboard ticking over and extend Blackrock’s advantage.

But Pres Bray weren’t prepared to roll over, and reignited the game as a contest after a period of sustained dominance, as tighthead Magee forced his way over for a well-deserved seven-pointer. 

And the comeback gathered momentum with 10 minutes left on the clock as Pres Bray broke down the left from open play, before O’Dowd showed his turn of pace to slalom through and dive over in this near corner.

Tom Gavin kicks a conversion David Fitzgibbon kicked Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Blackrock, however, found another gear. Fitzgibbon arrowed a kick deep into Pres Bray territory and after stealing possession, the forwards hammered away around the fringes for Barron to get over under the sticks. 

There was still time for Pres Bray to score a third try of their own as Murphy — a real prospect in the nine jersey — sniped over to complete a brilliantly entertaining game of rugby in front of a large Monday afternoon crowd.

Blackrock’s title defence is up and running, and it’ll take a big effort to stop them from here. 

Blackrock scorers:

Tries: Niall Comerford, Sam Small, Scott Barron.
Conversions: David Fitzgibbon [2 from 3].
Penalties: David Fitzgibbon [2 from 2].

Pres Bray scorers:

Tries: Darren Magee, Samuel O’Dowd, Ben Murphy. 
Conversions: Mick O’Gara [2 from 3].
Penalties: Mick O’Gara [0 from 1].

BLACKROCK COLLEGE: 15. Chris Rolland, 14. Niall Comerford, 13. Sam Small, 12. Gavin Jones, 11. Ben White, 10. David Fitzgibbon, 9. Matthew Cullen; 1. Aaron Rowan, 2. Stephen Dunne, 3. Luke Mion, 4. Mark Morrissey, 5. Joseph McCarthy, 6. Sean O’Brien (captain), 7. Jack Loscher, 8. Ed Brennan. 

Replacements: 16. Scott Barron, 17. Evan Downey, 18. John Kirby, 19. Conor McAleer, 20. Matthew Flynn, 21. Patrick O’Connor, 22. Tom Gavigan, 23. Jeff Kenny.

PRESENTATION COLLEGE BRAY: 15. Samuel O’Dowd, 14. Josh Pyper, 13. Peter Ford, 12. Mick O’Gara (captain), 11. Jordan Mortell, 10. Stephen Corry, 9. Ben Murphy; 1. Jamie Mulhern, 2. David Maloney, 3. Darren Magee, 4. Sam Kearney, 5. Ryan McDonald, 6. Sam Graham, 7. Callum McNulty, 8. Christopher Lawless.

Replacements: 16. Michael McCarthy, 17. Daniel Gavin, 18. Charlie O’Donoghue, 19. Jack Treacy, 20. Killian Bourke, 21. Cathal Eddy, 22. Robert Houlden, 23. Sean Fleming. 

Referee: Helen O’Reilly.

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Ryan Bailey

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