Leinster Rugby Juniors became the 2018 Junior Interprovincial champions after they defeated reigning champions, Ulster, at the University of Ulster Coleraine on Saturday. ‘
Ulster Juniors had also beaten Munster away in Muskerry RFC (0-24) and followed that up with victory at home against Connacht Juniors. These victories together with home advantage had Ulster as narrow favourites going into the match.
Ulster were quick out of the blocks with a penalty scored by Lee Steenson in the first minutes of the game.
A few minutes later, Leinster were awarded a penalty for a high tackle. The ball was kicked to touch, and from the ensuing lineout, Leinster deployed a superbly worked move that saw the forwards split, one group moving forward in the lineout, the other moving backwards.
The ball was thrown into the gap that opened in the centre which Simon Feeney burst through. There was no stopping the big wing forward as crossed the whitewash for the first try of the game. A fantastic start for Feeney on his first appearance for the Juniors. The try was converted by Dundalk’s Gearoid McDonald, giving the boys in blue a 3-7 lead after 10 minutes.
After this, both sides exchanged penalties. Leinster were first to score through McDonald but Ulster replied through their scrum-half Steenson. This brought the score to 6-10 after a lively opening half hour.
The game was played at a very fast, almost frantic pace with each side enjoying periods of pressure in the opposition 22. Ulster were awarded another penalty as the clock wound down to the break but the kick hit the upright.
Leinster then struck with a killer score just on half-time. A beautiful move by the Leinster players involving both forwards and backs saw the ball moved from inside their own 22 to the Ulster 22. Captain Kieran O’Gorman was involved more than once in this exhilarating move, before Dundalk’s Derek Williams went in under the posts for the Leinster men’s second try of the match. McDonald kicked the conversion bringing the half-time score to 6-17.
Five minutes into the second half, Ulster went over for their first try of the afternoon through Bradley Lunney, with Steenson adding the extras. Ulster were very much in this game.
However, their hard work and early second-half pressure was somewhat undone after 15 minutes when an Ulster loose forward was yellow-carded. This led to a sustained period of pressure by Leinster on the Ulster line but the northern province defended stoutly and managed to prevent Leinster from scoring for the period of the yellow card.
Leinster’s hard work was rewarded just after the 70-minute mark after a penalty was kicked deep into the Ulster 22. From the resulting lineout Leinster won possession and set up a rolling maul. The ball was securely held at the back of the maul and the Leinster men drove hard for the Ulster line. Kilkenny RFC man, Wes Carter, rumbled over the Ulster line.
Ulster were far from finished and on 76 minutes Ryan Garrett went over for a try far out to the left of the Leinster posts. The conversion was missed leaving the score at 18-24. The final few minutes were nervy but Leinster held out to secure a famous victory over their northern neighbours and with it, the Junior Interprovincial title.
Speaking after the game, Head Coach Enda Finn said: “It hasn’t really sunk in yet but it’s a fantastic feeling winning the series. It was a collective effort and as coaches all we did was empower the players, give them ownership and watch them flourish. They deserve all the plaudits, the last six weeks was a massive commitment at the end of a long season but with the right attitude and buy-in they have demonstrated what can be achieved.”
“A lot of hard work and planning paid off today in the winning of this year’s Interprovincial Championship,” Team Manager Robert McDermott said after the game.
“I am extremely proud of the whole squad this year, the way they gelled together and with 19 new caps this year it was a completely new team. To see the pride they all had in pulling on the Leinster jersey will remain with me for a long time. As I said to them beforehand, May 12th will go down as a historic day in the history of Leinster Rugby so let’s be a part of it. To watch the senior team win European Champions Cup as a squad afterwards was the icing on the cake for a perfect day.”
Leinster Rugby Juniors: Dan Costello (Stephen Duffy), Derek Williams, Mikey Russell, Matt Stapleton (Paul O’Connor), Corey Carty, Gearoid McDonald, Stephen Horan (Conor McCrossan), Jonathan Gray (Cathal Bannon), Sean Arrowsmith (Joe Gorman), Robert Farrell (Dylan Quinn), Wes Carter, Benny McManus, Kieran O’Gorman, Simon Feeney (Robin Foot), Tom Satchwell (Tom Brady)