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Dublin: 4°C Monday 1 March 2021

'Even for guys headed for the very top, the Colours is a hugely significant game'

Established in 1952, the latest installment of The Colours Match will have stars of the future alongside pillars of Irish rugby history.

A FIXTURE WITH a formidable past and it routinely acts as a showcase for big names of the future.

On Thursday evening (kick-off 19.30), UCD will travel to face Dublin University in Trinity’s College Park. Old schools, but a match with a young twist; it’s just the second time the old pitch in grand surroundings will host the Colours Match.

A rivalry formalised in 1952, the 66th installment will take the form of a UBL Division 1A tie with just three points separating the teams in the table before kick-off. However, the squabble over seventh and eighth spot is very much a secondary consideration to the rivalry that has fermented through the decades.

“I’ve heard guys in the past saying: ‘if you win the Colours Match you’ve had a good season,’ says UCD director of rugby Bobby Byrne with a wry laugh.

“There’ll probably be people watching who haven’t been to many UCD or Trinity matches during the year, but they may have played in a Colours Match 10, 20 or 3o years ago.”

Andrew Porter on the attack Andrew Porter has gone on to great things since his try-scoring feats in last season's Colours match. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Some of the more recent names on club duty for Colours night will be just as interested. The fixture has acted as a welcome proving ground with Grand Slam winners Dan Leavy and Andrew Porter, international wing Adam Byrne and a sizable collection of U20 internationals and professionals lining out for either side in recent seasons.

After seeing 10 of their registered players compete in last week’s Munster A v Leinster A B and I Cup clash, UCD hope to see Munster’s Jeremy Loughman, Leinster’s Ciaran Frawley, Ronan Foley and Ireland U20 skipper Tommy O’Brien freed to pull on a light blue jersey this week. But as a club they must balance the benefit of being within a stone’s throw of the Leinster academy with the limited time to work with such hot property.

It’s fantastic to have these guys involved, but in terms of preparation for the games it makes it a bit more challenging.”

“Even for the guys playing at the top level and headed for the very top, the Colours is a hugely significant game. In the context of the university rugby it’s simply the biggest game of the season and there’s no doubt about it, when the UBL fixtures come out at the start of the season it’s the first date that players, alumni and past players put in their diary.”

Byrne and head coach Andy Skehan will only get a firm handle on the personnel they can put on their team-sheet for the biggest match of the season today, when Leinster assess the damage from the win over Saracens and who they might want to hold on to for their own clash with Zebre. Meanwhile, Trinity will prepare with a relatively settled side, winding up to unleash a high-tempo attacking game bursting with width on their guests this week.

“When we play our best rugby it’s always ball-in-hand and you play to the edge,” says DUFC director of rugby Tony Smeeth, who will entrust the reins of his side to Angus Lloyd (a Champions Cup quarter-finalist this time last year) and Jack McDermott.

“We do have exit strategies and all that, but if they see a way, they’ll run it. That’s the way they’re taught.”

Such an expansive approach can often become a touch rigid or jumpy when teams are met with pressure situations. That will certainly be the aim of UCD in College Park, but Smeeth (who ensures the U20s at Trinity play in the same style) has seen his side win Colours matches and also go down bravely with their Barbarian style, so he’s happy to carry on living by the sword.

“Last year wasn’t (a classic), but the two games before that were absolute epic games,” Smeeth tells The42 with giddy expectation of what Thursday might have in store.

“UCD turned up with basically a Leinster A team: Leavy, (Ireland Sevens captain, Billy) Dardis, (Barry) Daly, Adam Byrne, Ross Byrne, (Andrew) Porter, (Peadar) Timmins and we lost 32 – 29 to them over there. It was a phenomenal game.

“We ran everything and they scored a try right at the end to win. Dan Leavy said to me, it’s the only game he ever played when he felt like: ‘we were lucky to win that’.  He won the game for them though.

“We made loads of line-breaks, it was probably the best team we ever had, the team which got us promoted, we played some phenomenal rugby,”

Smeeth is confident the edge of his attack won’t require much honing, but after watching his team slump to concede 76 points against Lansdowne last week, energy in defence will need to be greatly increased to cope with the bright prospects UCD send their way.

Smeeth points to an important mitigating factor in an otherwise ‘embarrassing’ result on the back pitch on Lansdowne Road. Five days earlier, they played beyond the 80 and battled the length of the field to record a dramatic late win over Young Munster. Couple that with the odd set of eyes drifting to the bigger game on the horizon and a terrific Lansdowne side on a hard artificial pitch and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

“After winning the game like that, a massive emotional result, then we play Lansdowne on the Saturday and they score after 43 seconds. We’re 28 – 0 down before you know it.

“We came back to 28 -14, but we gave them the softest of tries and it’s over. Then we started chasing the bonus point…”

Dublin University huddle before the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Smeeth adds: “If I sent you our attack you’d go ‘wow’ this is really good rugby, but Lansdowne were the same.

“In the last 10 years I’ve had about five real hidings between the 20s and the first team, but it’s just that pitch, it’s so tough to defend on. It’s like a Brillo pad — you get ripped to smithereens no matter how much Vaseline you use.”

The natural grass feel of College Park will be welcome to both sides then, but with Trinity building a veritable Colours carnival around the fixture with U20s, Junior and Women’s Colours matches taking place in the lead-up, a softer track won’t necessarily mean a slower contest.

Certainly not in the early stages.

“It’s absolutely different to any game we play all year,” notes Byrne.

“The first 10 minutes are helter-skelter stuff. You often hear guys with a fair amount of experience saying the first 20 minutes or half hour can pass them by, because it’s just frantic.

Ciaran Frawley kicks a conversion 15 for UCD last season, Ciaran Frawley has played out-half for Leinster this year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“What we’ll try to encourage guys to do is to play in a controlled fashion and try to take emotion out of it, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

“We have to go to College Park which is challenging for us. We find it difficult to win  there. We’re looking forward to it, but we’re conscious it’s going to be the toughest game of the season for us.”

Roll on Thursday.

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Sean Farrell

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