UCC give it socks but remain bottom after defeat

There are plenty of rugby traditions to baffle the uninitiated — New Zealand’s haka, the French smuggling cockerels into stadiums, clubs touring to the other side of the world for no practical reason whatsoever — and university rugby is no different.

Saturday saw UCC’s players ‘win their colours’, an annual tradition where players wear the socks of either their school or club, or in some cases both, as a tribute to them for helping in their rugby development.

Historically marked by matches against other university opposition, the advent of the All-Ireland League — and the demise of the Dudley Cup — has often prevented these intervaristy colours clashes taking place, but UCD’s presence in Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League solved that issue this season.

“It’s a special day, and we reinforce it,” said UCC coach Conor Twomey. “Tradition is great to hang on to. We’re developing them as rugby players, but also as people. The boys really buy into it.”

While most of the players plumped for the socks of their school — there were a majority in the red, black and yellow of Christian Brothers College this year — some took it upon themselves to use the occasion to honour other important people and institutions in their sporting careers. Powerful number eight Luke Cahill matched a Rockwell sock with a Cloyne GAA one, while second row James Mulcahy wore a sock belonging to Sunday’s Well hooking legend Fintan Whelan. There was also Leinster representation from out-half Brian Kingston (Blackrock College) and wing Garret Ó Suilleabháin (Clongowes Wood).

It’s not just a big day for the players; College alumni gathered beforehand for a lunch on campus before ambling down to the game itself to enjoy the new €1.3m Mardyke Pavilion.

The only thing the day was missing was a UCC victory — largely down to some slack tackling in the opening minutes, which allowed UCD centre David Lynch squeeze through after a pass from scrum-half Peter du Toit.

Gathering under the posts for Niall Earls’ conversion, UCC’s players told themselves there’d be no more freebies. Their line wasn’t breached again, and they owned the ball thereafter — the possession stats must have been around the 70% mark — but on a soggy day and against a disciplined UCD defence, they couldn’t do a lot with it.

That put the game’s fate in the hands of the kickers. Kingston’s two penalties book-ended efforts from Earls and replacement out-half James Thornton to leave it finely poised at 13-6 to the visitors when the real drama arrived six minutes from time.

Kingston’s deft chip-and-collect put him into open country, and he arrowed one towards the corner with Ó Suilleabháin giving chase. Tom Fletcher attempted to shepherd the ball out, but it stayed in by inches to allow the UCC wing to collect and score. UCD hotly disputed its legitimacy, but the try was given. However, Kingston failed to get hold of his touchline conversion to equalise. UCD picked and jammed the clock down to take the points, and leave UCC rooted to the bottom of the table.

While traditions such as colours live on and evolve, so too do the challenges of university rugby. With emigration and the limitation of two contracted players per side in Division 1A, UCC are suffering a greater turnover than usual as opportunities emerge elsewhere; 13 of last year’s starting 15 have already moved on.

“There’s places in the Cork Con and Dolphin teams now for aspiring young players who want to jump in there quicker,” explained Twomey.

“When you look at the success of Ireland, Munster and Munster A, it (the contracted player rules) works for the pro game, but not for us down here in the amateur game. It makes it more of a challenge.”

UCC: L Duffy; G Ó Suilleabháin, C Jouve, P Parfrey, J Holland; B Kingston, B Slater; R O’Neill, W Falvey, S Moynihan; B Quill, J Mulcahy; W Ryan, B O’Callaghan (capt), L Cahill.

Rolling replacements: P McCabe, P Ryan, D O’Connell, J McCarthy, K Slater.

UCD: M Twomey; A Boyle, A Kelly, D Lynch, T Fletcher; N Earls, P du Toit; J Tracey, R Byrne, K Moloney; B Cawley, K McKenna; D Kenny, D Doyle, S Grannell.

Rolling replacements: B Hall, R Bent, M McGroarty, R Shanley, J Thornton.

Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU).

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