Gonzaga were good value for their comfortable victory over Newbridge in the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior League Semi-Final at bitingly cold Donnybrook yesterday.
The opening salvo was all about Newbridge holding onto the ball and moving it in the face of a ferocious Gonzaga defence which drove them backwards.
From a scrum, the Sandford Road school’s scrum-half Jack Connolly whipped a ball from the base into the hands of out-half Hugh Gleeson, who ghosted through for an impressive try converted by Connolly in the 8th minute.
The ‘Bridge took this medicine and continued their ‘modus operandi’, forcing a penalty at ruck time.
This gave them territory and front foot ball from lock Cian Prendergast’s lineout take, prop Luke Rigney driving it up the guts.
It was there Gonzaga activated a stunning counter-ruck for openside Jack Barry to force a penalty.
The concession of a soft try seemed to wake Newbridge up and they dished out two-man hits and a cruncher from centre Karmon Fitzgerald to keep their line intact.
Gonzaga left wing Fergus O’hOisin almost got around the outside of full-back Donal Conroy.
They stayed patient to stretch the Kildare school right and left where O’hOisin drew a penalty advantage for a high tackle, the ball recycled for lock Eoin Buggy to stroll over for Connolly’s extras to make it 14-0 in the 20th minute.
It was going to take something special to reverse the flow of the game as Gonzaga’s cohesion looked a step above with captain Robbie Kidney showing the way.
Finally, Newbridge had a chance to get back into it when scrum-half Jack Doyle launched a penalty towards the 22 where they promptly coughed up the lineout.
They came calling again, hooker Larry Kelly finding Prendergast at the tail on their next lineout to set up a surge from prop Thomas Grant only for Buggy to rip the ball away in the tackle to conclude the first-half.
Gonzaga were back on attack mode straight away, a crossing decision granting Newbridge a reprieve.
Then, flanker Harry O’Neill clamped down on the ball at a ruck to hand Newbridge yet another shot at territory.
They just weren’t able to sustain any pressure. This time, Grant and O’Neill punched the ball up and Prendergast made hard yards before the ball hit the deck out wide.
Out of nothing, ‘Zaga nine Connolly’s kick bounced around until wing Daniel Inglis gathered and tore down the right to force a five-metre scrum from his kick ahead.
From there, they engineered a pre-conceived move for centre Brian O’Donnell to arc inside the cover for a fine finish which Connolly converted for 21-0 in the 48th minute.
Strangely, Newbridge decided to take a more direct view to the game through prop Luke Rigney, Prendergast and Grant.
For the first time, they looked dangerous enough to do damage without delivering on this threat.
In contrast, Gonzaga looked likely when they got into position even though they had to be content with Connolly’s penalty in the 57th minute.
Newbridge were keen for compensation and their forwards churned out the gains necessary for prop Luke Rigney to claim a try from close range.
They suddenly came alive for replacement Sam Cahill to scythe through for their second try and add a conversion for the final score in the 63rd minute.
At Donnybrook – Gonzaga College 24 (H Gleeson, E Buggy, B O’Donnell try each; J Connolly pen, 3 cons); Newbridge College 12 (S Cahill try, con; L Rigney try).
Gonzaga: Frank O’Grady; Daniel Inglis, Brian O’Donnell, Arthur Henry, Fergus O’hOisin; Hugh Gleeson, Jack Connolly; Michael Gleeson, Eoin Barron, Simon Clear, Caoilim Fassbender, Eoin Buggy, Robbie Kidney (capt), Jack Barry, Jack Coolican.
Replacements: Henry Godson for Barron 28 mins; Liam Tyrell for Coolican 50 mins; Hugo Fitzgerald for M Gleeson, Colm Kirby-O’Briain for Kidney both 58mins; Karl Morgan for O’hOisin 68 mins.
Newbridge: Donal Conroy; Daniel O’Connor, Karmon Fitzgerald, Thomas Sheedy, Con Creedon; Luke Maloney, Jack Doyle; Thomas Grant, Luke Kelly, Luke Rigney, Cian Prendergast (capt), Dylan Morrissey, Conor McGroary, Harry O’Neill, Muiris Cleary.
Replacements: Jordan Nolan for Kelly, Jack Banahan for O’Connor both 47 mins; Marcus Kiely for Fitzgerald 57 mins; Mark Moynihan for McGroary, Sam Cahill for Maloney both 58 mins; Eimhim Conroy for Sheedy 62 mins.