We had to wait a while, 18 months to be exact, but at long last DUFC returned to College Park to play their much anticipated first home game of the 2014/2015 season against Malone RFC of Belfast on 4th October. The much loved and iconic rugby ground, home to the oldest continuous rugby club in the world, has been revamped to allow DUFC to continue to improve as a high performance club, and was officially opened on the day by Provost Patrick Prendergast; head of sport in TCD, Michelle Tanner; and president of the IRFU, Louis Magee.
The students came into this match on the back of three consecutive losses in the All-Ireland League (AIL) and were in dire need of a win. With past players and members flying in from all corners of the globe to celebrate the reopening of the new pitch, there was a lot of hype and expectation surrounding this performance. The pressure was on to deliver. There were a few changes from the previous week, with Conor Kearns moving back into outside to replace the injured captain Paddy Lavelle. Jack McDermot returned to outhalf after recovering from a groin injury, with Paddy Finlay filling the boots of injured Richy Halpin at hooker and Killian O’Leary returning to the left wing.
The students looked the most dangerous following the opening exchanges. They were taking Malone through multiple phases as they advanced up the pitch. Finally on the 10 minute mark, they were awarded a penalty on the opposition 22 in front of the posts, for a Malone infringement at the ruck. Jack McDermot converted the opportunity to give DUFC a 3 point lead.
Immediately, Malone began to get a foothold in the game. After receiving a midfield penalty they declined the opportunity to take the points and decided to kick into the corner. DUFC somehow managed to turnover possession and clear their lines. But Malone came with wave after wave of attacking play. The students defended heroically for 10 minutes before eventually a dubious tip tackle from USA international right winger, Tim Maupin, which resulted in the DUFC number 14 being sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes. This proved to be the difference and in the very next play Malone’s number 5 crossed the line just right of the posts. The conversion was kicked by Malone’s number 13 and so it was 7 – 3 to Malone.
The students hit back five minutes later, however. After another good run of phases, Trinity were awarded another penalty, this time further out but again in front of the posts. Jack McDermot duly struck it straight through the uprights to bring the students back to within 1 with 10 minutes to go to the halftime break. Trinity looked dangerous again before the break but handling errors resulting in no points being added to the scoreboard. The half finished with Malone leading 7 – 6.
Again the students began the second half as the more lively side. With the wind now at their back they attacked deep into Malone’s 22. Tom Collis had a strong carry but was tackled just short. Openside Brian du Toit then picked from the ruck and scored at the base of the posts. The try was converted by McDermot to give DUFC a 13 – 7 lead. The atmosphere was building as the crowd could begin to sense confidence growing amongst the young DUFC side. The students then took a nine-point lead through the boot of McDermot following another infringement at the breakdown by Malone.
But again, like the first half, Malone had their purple patch. After conceding the restart, the students were put under immediate pressure by the Belfast men. Eventually, they spun the ball wide and a clever grubber in behind the students defensive line was gathered by the Malone left wing who went in to score under the post to bring DUFC’s lead back to only two points.
Trinity were next to register on the scoreboard after a turnover on the halfway line from Brian Du Toit, who offloaded to the oncoming McDermot, who then went 50 meters to score just right of the posts, leaving everyone else on the pitch in his wake. He converted his own try and the students regained their 9 point advantage. The home crowd grew louder and victory seemed closer.
This feeling was short lived, however, as again the students failed to deal with the restart and gifted Malone with possession deep inside DUFC territory. They worked through the phases and were rewarded with a penalty in front of the poss,t which brought them back to within a score again. It was 23 – 17 to the students with 15 minutes to go.
Unlike previous weeks, the students showed composure and remained unfazed. They regained possession just inside their own half and, after a brilliant run from Tim Maupin down the right wing, the ball was quickly moved wide where DUFC received a penalty. It was outside McDermot’s range so the option was to kick down the line. From the resulting lineout the DUFC pack mauled Malone 20 meters and were illegally hauled down just short of the line which resulted in another penalty to the students. It was 15 metres from the touch line, but instead of taking another lineout, they opted to take the points which gave the students a 9 point cushion.
The students were not going to allow Malone back into the game and took control of the restart and cleared their lines. With under 10 minutes to go, Malone had all the ball but the students defended with plenty of heart and held out until the final whistle. There was a lot to be proud from this performance. It marks the student’s first win in the AIL this season which will give them a new found confidence. They showed a lot of resilience not to crumble under the pressure from Malone or from the expectations placed on their shoulders. If this young but very talented team want to be considered a force in this year’s 1B division, College Park must become a fortress. With the homecoming being such a success, there will hopefully be many more great matches to come in this amazing rugby ground.