Belvedere College completed a miracle 20-19 comeback to keep their hunt for a third consecutive Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Senior Schools Cup on track at Donnybrook today.

The loss of David Hawkshaw and Aleksiey Soroka to injury didn’t seem to bother them too much in making an aggressive start until flanker Aaron Coleman had the ball stripped away. Belvedere full-back David Lacey’s superb kick put St Michael’s in a tight spot which out-half David Moran got them out of with a sure line-kick.

The Aylesbury Road school were struggling for any rhythm until Ryan Baird rocked Gerard Hill in the tackle, got to his feet and was there to take off for 30 metres when the ball came his way. It was just what St Michael’s needed and their hard-off the line defence began to tempt Belvo’ into forcing the issue.

Flanker Scott Penny was in on the ball in a flash to grab a penalty which David Ryan pulled low and left in the 12th minute. They moved with menace through number eight Dan O’Donovan, claimed a penalty at the ruck which Baird turned into a maul from the subsequent lineout for a gain of 20 metres. They drove with stealth for scrum-half Rob Gilsenan to arc over from no more than five metres, Ryan converting for 7-0 in the 16th minute.

Belvedere got involved in a kicking dual that worked out well for their wing Alistair Loughrey to fly around the outside. They were getting into a groove when Penny slowed the ball down for the concession of a penalty for Lacey to make it 7-3 in the 23rd minute.

Then, they got into Penny to hold him up off the floor for a turnover. For all of Michael’s intricacy, the maul was their most effective avenue to another penalty which out-half David Moran launched to touch.

Belvedere opted to stay on the ground at the lineout and Baird was their instrument for another drive, Gilsenan feeding centre Jay Barron on the short side for a lovely try, converted by Ryan for 14-3 in the 33rd minute.

There was still time for a lightning break from full-back Chris Cosgrave which was dealt with by Lacey to prevent further damage at half-time.

The tide had to turn – and quickly – or St Michael’s could put up points in a hurry. Then, out-half Moran committed the sin of slapping the ball down for a yellow card. This was what Belvo’ had been looking for and their maul looked a certainty until O’Donovan ruined their momentum for a turnover.

When Cailean Mulvaney motored around Cosgrave, hooker Lee Barron jumped on the loose ball to save the day. Lock Matthew Healy followed suit to mop up another loose ball and Baird ripped the ball away five metres from his line just as Moran returned.

St Michael’s turned the knife with a stunning third try, initiated by Baird, assisted by Healy and finished off by centre Barron for his second for 19-3 in the 48th minute.

The Black and Whites never stopped working for a way back, their forwards sweating out the hard yards as coach Phil Werahiko made five changes all at once. This did not seem to disrupt their cohesion as they took ownership of the ball. They found their reward when centre Matthew Grogan cut through and fed Lacey for a fine try on the hour.

Suddenly, the champions had life and belief and they reduced the difference to a one-score when Lacey lashed a penalty in the 65th minute.

St Michael’s went from dominating the game to hanging on, replacement Jeff O’Loughlin hammering out an important tackle to force a scrum. They changed gears to play safe and it cost them a penalty at a ruck and a turnover to Mulvaney.

From there, the touch-finder was secured at lineout and an unstoppable maul took off for replacement Mateusz Galinski to claim the try, Lacey landing the conversion as the final whistle sounded. Leaving the final score Belvedere College 20, St Michael’s College 19.

At Donnybrook – Belvedere College 20 (D Lacey try, 2 pens, 2 cons; M Galinski try); St Michael’s College 19 (J Barron 2 tries; R Gilsenan try; D Ryan 2 cons).

St Michael’s College: Chris Cosgrave; Mark O’Brien, David Ryan (capt), Jay Barron, Andrew Smith; David Moran, Rob Gilsenan; Jack Boyle, Lee Barron, Chris Hennessy, Matthew Healy, Ryan Baird, Jody Booth, Scott Penny, Dan O’Donovan.

Replacements: Fionn Finlay for Hennessy 44 mins; Mark Hernan for O’Donovan 54 mins; Jeff O’Loughlin for Smith 56 mins; Eddie Kelly for Jay Barron 64 mins.

Belvedere College: David Lacey; Alex O’Grady, Matthew Grogan, Cailean Mulvaney, Alistair Loughrey; John Meagher, Patrick Lysaght; James Gleeson, Luke Harmon, Conor Cagney, Neil Howard, James Murphy Gerard Hill, Aaron Coleman, Ruadhan Byron (capt).

Replacements: Mateusz Galinski for Gleeson, Jonathan Bell for Cagney, Cian Scott for Howard, Ted Walsh for Lysaght, Sam Barry for Mulvaney all 50 mins; Cailean Mulvaney for Grogan 58 mins.