Highfield 9 UCC 14
This was one of those games where you begin to understand what coaches mean when they talk about ‘fine margins’.
Having made a bit of a mess of the first half, Highfield found themselves 14-6 in arrears as they packed down for a five-metre scrum near UCC’s line 13 minutes from time.
Three gargantuan shoves had yielded three penalties, with referee Barrie O’Connell seemingly poised to give either a yellow card or a penalty try.
They opted for a fourth scrum, but the ball went loose and the students survived. On such moments do Ulster Bank League clashes turn, but Highfield coach Fergus Burke wasn’t feeling sorry for himself.
“The ball just squirted out and that’s that. But give credit to UCC, they defended really well, we threw a lot at them and they held us out,” he said.
“Being honest with ourselves, it was the first half when we left it behind. The discipline was really poor and we didn’t take our chances.”
Burke’s no-nonsense approach is yielding dividends in Bishopstown, as Highfield find themselves on an upward trajectory after a few less than memorable seasons.
Newly-promoted to Division 2A, Burke immediately targeted a top-five placing for his ambitious squad to be chewing over at Christmas dinner.
The bonus point they secured here means they’ve achieved that goal for the first half of the campaign.
“In terms of progression we’re happy, and are where we want to be. We want to be competing and pushing on.
“There’s a great atmosphere around the club at the moment. There was a massive crowd here which is great to see, and our youth structure is really good. Players come and go but the nucleus of true Highfield people are still here and still playing. We’re competing, and overall, we need to be happy with that.”
The hosts flew out of the blocks and giant prop Paddy Ryan crossed in the corner after four minutes, only to be denied by the touch judge’s flag.
While Highfield had it all their own way in the scrum, Brian Quill and Dave O’Connell ruled the lineout for UCC, who gradually grew into the game. Seán Óg Murphy landed three of his four penalty attempts to put College 9-0 to the good at half-time, the last of those coming after Highfield prop John O’Callaghan was sin-binned for obstructing Luke Duffy.
College flew out of the traps in the second half too and scored the game’s only try through a textbook lineout catch and drive, hooker Kieran Stokes getting the ball down.
Murphy couldn’t convert but on a mucky day and with Highfield having shown little in the way of attacking penetration, 14-0 looked like a solid lead.
However, the last half hour belonged to the hosts. O’Toole closed the gap to eight points with two penalties in three minutes, before that crucial miscontrol at the scrum denied them a potential try. They wouldn’t get another sniff of the UCC line.
When O’Toole hit the post with a late penalty Highfield’s chance of a bonus point seemed to have gone too. But another big shove in injury time yielded another scrum penalty and the Highfield out-half’s radar was more accurate this time.
A hearty dressing-room rendition of Ta-Rax-Rum — the brilliantly weird, nonsensical College victory song — spoke volumes for UCC’s relief at a victory that sends them top of Division 2A with six wins from eight.
“That pitch would take it out of you, it was soggy and hard to move on,” admitted College full-back Darren Sweetnam. “It wasn’t a day for the backs, but the forwards did well. The main thing is we got the points.”
HIGHFIELD: D Buckley Barry; P Stack, C Jouve, S Quaid, B Newman; P O’Toole, M O’Driscoll; J O’Callaghan, W Falvey, P Ryan; D Kelly, M Dillane; B Carroll, M Power, D Keogh (capt).
Rolling replacements: D O’Hea, J Carton, G French, C Downes, K Moloney.
UCC: D Sweetnam; O Dennehy, L Duffy, D Horgan, S Raimondi; S Og Murphy, D Foley; P McCabe, K Stokes, S Moynihan; B Quill, D O’Connell; C Gallagher, J McCarthy, W Ryan (capt).
Rolling replacements: C Slowey, M O’Mahony, D McSweeney, J Fitzgerald, R Barry.
Referee: B O’Connell (IRFU).
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