Gonzaga College 34 Clongowes Wood College 26

Gonzaga College got in front and stayed there in a pulsating Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup first round encounter with Clongowes Wood College.

Replacement Oscar O’Neill’s intercept try late in the second half was needed to ensure the result and provide some relief to the eventual winners.

The nerves were apparent from the off when both kickers Hugo McLaughlin and Tom Murtagh launched straight to touch.

A smart turnover by Paul Wilson was the trigger for Gonzaga to go through the gears, Jody Browne looking certain to score until Oscar O’Brien dragged the wing into touch.

Gonzaga came back for a penalty advantage, out-half Stephen McMahon slotting the opening three points in the fifth minute.

An overcooked kick by McLaughlin allowed Clongowes an attacking lineout, from where they punched the ball up the middle until George Morris forced a penalty on the floor.

The Leinster League winners increased their lead when Shane McNulty gambled and lost out on an interception. Hugh Goddard put Browne over on the left, McMahon kicking the touchline conversion for 10-0 in the ninth minute.

The Clane school had to get a grip on matters. Instead, McMahon slipped McLaughlin through a gap, the full-back unable to gather his own kick.

Clongowes were very direct, using McNulty, Blayze Molloy, Liam Burke and Leo Dowling to gain ground allied to the left foot of Harry MacGoey from the base of the ruck.

The tactic of kicking long to McLaughlin did not seem like the best way forward, although Burke was quick to squeeze a penalty to prevent ‘Zaga from making further inroads.

Gonzaga were on the verge of turning a 20-metre maul into a second try when No 8 Burke executed a miraculous counter-ruck to start a series of offloads from deep that almost led to the score Clongowes so badly needed.

‘Zaga created something out of nothing from McMahon’s dummy-and-go to find lock Thomas Murphy at his shoulder for a superb try, converted by McMahon for 17-0 in the 27th minute.

An agile poach by James Wyse was answered by Murphy climbing to win a lineout against the throw. A miracle burst by Murphy was the reason behind McLaughlin diving in for the third try.

Just when all seemed hopeless, flanker Molloy blocked down Michael Sullivan’s clearance to go over unopposed, McNulty converting for 22-7 at the interval.

It got even better when O’Brien took a lovely inside ball from Dowling to skate home, McNulty’s extras eating into the deficit.

Then, Burke broke out of defence to feed Dowling and the ball was moved slickly from Senan Noone for McNulty to step inside the last defender, his conversion somehow making it a one-point game in the 41st minute.

Gonzaga had to regroup and they did so when Paul Wilson’s break and subsequent control at the rear of a maul created the space on the short-side for Rory Finlay to touchdown for 27-21 in the 47th minute.

Back and forth it went, Clongowes propelled forward by the impact of Tom Hennebry, quicker ruck ball and Alex Kelly’s steal at the breakdown.

The next score would be vital, Gonzaga opting to hold onto the ball to limit Clongowes ability to strike.

The Kildare school came raiding down the right, wing Noone cutting in where captain Noah Maguire secured a crucial turnover.

McLaughlin shot through close to the ruck to put Gonzaga in the right area where O’Brien was waiting to claim a turnover.

Clongowes had to push the pace. That is when O’Neill stepped up for an interception, McMahon’s conversion sealing the issue.

Even so, Clongowes just kept coming straight for replacement Dan Daly to ground the ball from a maul at the final whistle.

Scorers – Gonzaga College: H McLaughlin, J Browne, T Murphy, R Finlay, O O’Neill try each; S McMahon pen, three cons. Clongowes Wood College: S McNulty try, three cons; B Molloy, O O’Brien, D Daly try each.

Gonzaga College – Hugo McLaughlin; Hugo Neville, Hugh Goddard, Jody Browne, Rory Finlay (Oscar O’Neill 61); Stephen McMahon, Michael Sullivan (Oisin Murray 55); Toby Hammond, Tim Cotter, George Morris,  Thomas Murphy, Luke O’Callaghan, Noah Maguire (capt), Gavin O’Donnell (Tom Wyley 55), Paul Wilson.

Clongowes Wood College – Padraic Spillane; Senan Noone, Shane McNulty (Harry Mallon 69), Harry Roche-Nagle, Oscar O’Brien; Tom Murtagh, Harry MacGoey (Tom Hennebry 49); Flavio Macari, Leo Dowling (capt), James Wyse, James Ruddy, Alex Kelly, Blayze Molloy (Matthew Roche-Nagle h-t (Harry Coveney 56)), Diarmuid O’Brien, Liam Burke (Dan Daly 56).

Referee – John Carvill