Blackrock College had to dig very deep against St Gerard’s School, coming from behind to claim a place in the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup semi-finals at Donnybrook yesterday.
St Gerard’s, the Senior Schools League winners, had built their game from the confidence of winning this season.
They had to start well and the kick off from Cormac Foley was dropped forward, the mistake repaired with Michael McGagh’s poach for out-half James Tarrant to kick ‘Rock out of trouble.
The Blackrock maul was good for 20 metres and scrum-half Ross Barron’s up-and-under was converted into a lineout by wing Rory Madigan’s follow-up hit.
Then, the ‘Rock scrum forced the issue before St Gerard’s out-half David O’Brien cleared his lines.
Captain Ethan Baxter pinched the ball on the floor, Blackrock went off their feet and centre Foley launched a penalty as far as the five-metre line.
Flanker Baxter and hooker Robert Byrne went close before ‘Rock’s defence, led by Liam Turner, turned up the heat to force the ball into touch.
A grubber through from Foley forced Stephen Madigan to scurry across to concede a lineout. They secured the ball and centre Oliver Haydock was twice involved, grounding the ball against the base of the post for a clinical try, converted by Haydock in the 15th minute.
It was just what the game needed, more specifically, what St Gerard’s needed.
Even when their exit from deep faltered, Baxter was there to seize on a loose ball after Michael McGagh’s drive off the back of a scrum.
The 50-50 contests were being won by St Gerard’s with Baxter into everything and prop Adam O’Reilly somehow nicking the ball from a maul.
It was that man Baxter, who took the ball away from ‘Rock prop Thomas Clarkson to continue to stymie the Williamstown school.
An overthrown lineout put the flying Baxter on the ball and once in behind, they were patient in their probing for Foley to chip over the defence from no more than eight metres out and collect for a stunning second try, Haydock converting for 14-0 on the half hour.
Blackrock needed some encouragement and they found it from Tarrant’s penalty in the 33rd minute for not rolling away at a ruck.
The Bray school was not content to just hold the line, Foley powering forward with assistance from number eight Rory Wilson as the half came to a close.
Blackrock came out with greater urgency for centre Tom Maher to hurtle up the middle and hooker Sean Molony to hammer forward.
The pressure was good enough to squeeze a penalty for Tarrant to narrow the gap in the 38th minute.
The tide of territory was starting to turn, Blackrock lock Jack Stapleton claiming a lineout for Harry Donnelly to eat up the ground.
St Gerard’s full-back Max O’Reilly’s deliberate knock-on drew a yellow card and resulted in Tarrant’s third penalty in the 42nd minute.
There was an immediate response when ‘Rock lost their discipline at a ruck and Haydock stepped up to split the posts for 17-9 in the 44th minute.
Then, Tarrant kicked the ball direct to touch from the restart only for the Gerard’s scrum to buckle under pressure.
It was hectic stuff as Blackrock looked to turn the screw and Foley tackled replacement Cian Duffy and prop David Carroll stripped the ball away from Liam Turner.
Baxter’s canny ability to pick up the pieces and Foley’s knack for putting Paddy Opperman away looked ominous before the move broke down.
Blackrock came down the left where Foley was back in position to tidy up a bobbling ball.
Still, their scrum and lineout were providing a platform, the latter rolling forward for more than 20 metres to set up a sweep to the left where full-back Stephen Madigan strolled home and converted from wide to make it a one-point game in the 55th minute.
However, St Gerard’s stayed in the fight through their awesome front-foot defence to force a penalty which Foley posted to touch.
They just couldn’t control the ball around the fringes and ‘Rock broke out of defence for Tarrant to clip a drop goal for the lead for the first time in the 62nd minute.
Just as their maul looked to be on the march again, St Gerard’s prop Carroll ripped the ball away for a miracle turnover.
The next time, there was no escape as Wilson was binned for bringing down the maul and Tarrant went for the corner rather than the points, kicking the ball into the dead ball area.
St Gerard’s had one more chance from deep which they couldn’t pull off to bring to an end a gripping game.
At Donnybrook – Blackrock College 19 (S Madigan try, dg, con; J Tarrant 3 pens); St Gerard’s School 17 (O Haydock try, pen, 2 cons; C Foley try)
Blackrock: Stephen Madigan; Rory Madigan, Liam Turner (capt), Tom Maher, Harry Donnelly; James Tarrant, Ross Barron; Hugo O’Malley, Sean Molony, Thomas Clarkson, Sean O’Brien, Jack Stapleton, Josh Dixon, Josh Loscher, Michael McGagh.
Replacements: Gavin Jones for R Madigan 15mins – temp; Cian Duffy for O’Malley, Louis O’Reilly for Barron both 43mins.
St Gerard’s: Max O’Reilly; Paddy Opperman, Oliver Haydock, Cormac Foley, Morgan Freeley; David O’Brien, Jack O’Caoimh; Adam O’Reilly, Robert Byrne, David Carroll, Donal Ahern, Daniel McGovern, Charles Byrne, Ethan Baxter (capt), Rory Wilson.
Replacements: T Cahill-Hannigan for Baxter 60mins; Conor Diamond or O’Brien 62mins; Ethan Baxter for Ahern 67mins.