The 2022 Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Schools Senior Cup has reached the penultimate stage this week.

It promises to be competitive, entertaining fare as Leinster League winners Gonzaga College take on St Mary’s College on Wednesday and Blackrock College meet Newbridge College on Thursday.

Gonzaga College v St Mary’s College – Wednesday, 23 March (Energia Park, KO 2pm)

Strictly on a form line through the Leinster Senior League final and the Senior Cup quarter-final, there should be little or nothing between Gonzaga and St Mary’s in the first semi-final.

Kilkenny are that common opponent the two schools share, Gonzaga shading the Marble City kids by one point (18-17) in December and St Mary’s edging them out (17-9) in the last eight two weeks ago.

It was even closer than the final scoreline would suggest for the Rathmines school. They had to rely on an injury-time try by flanker Aaron O’Brien and conversion by replacement Conor Tracey to make the game safe.

Therein lies part of the intrigue. Can St Mary’s afford to go into this ‘too close to call’ encounter without the place-kicker on the starting blocks?

It remains to be seen whether it will be a form decision, a game plan decision or a points-on-the-board decision.

Either way, the original starting scrum-half Gavin Mulvihill showed enough signs to suggest he can be a different type of problem for ‘Zaga.

Out-half Darragh Gilbourne, the captain, and centre Evan Moynihan provide more than one touch of class in a back division that can be fluid and smooth once they can break-even, or better, in the heavy exchanges up-front.

The forward pack has an anchorman in Leinster Schools tighthead Andrew Sparrow and a fine No 8 in Louis McGauran, who has that knack for coming up with big plays.

On more than one occasion, McGauran thwarted Kilkenny in defence by either ripping the ball away or stepping up to make a big tackle just when St Mary’s looked like capitulating in a bend, don’t break defensive stand.

The supporting cast up-front is also strong, locks Tom McEniff and Luke Policky showing mettle in the tight, O’Brien launching into ball carriers and flanker Luc Manselli coming under pressure from Lucca Jennings for selection in the back row, reflecting the depth in that area.

How Gonzaga would love to have Ireland Schools certainty Davy Colbert in their ranks for his guile and speed. Injury has taken that special weapon away.

It is something they have grown used to with their other international level star Hugo McLaughlin moving into the full-back slot from outside centre.

However, Jody Browne is an abrasive character at inside centre beside the fine footballing brain of Hugh Goddard, who played at out-half in the league final.

The half-backs Michael Sullivan and Stephen McMahon look to play to the plan rather than take too much out of the ball.

The forwards are a resilient bunch, tighthead George Morris tasked with locking down the scrum and locks Thomas Murphy and Luke O’Callaghan expected to work until the final whistle or until they are called ashore.

The loose forward trio is a really smooth unit, captain Noah Maguire working on the nuts and bolts of the game, openside Gavin O’Donnell dipping in and out of the breakdown and Paul Wilson popping up with match-turning contributions.

Like Newbridge, Gonzaga are showing the value of building a rugby programme to become consistent challengers for silverware.

In 2019, they made their first Senior Cup final, falling short against St Michael’s. It is not by accident that they are back in contention to make it back there again.

St. Mary’s College:
15. John Brennan
14. Peter O’Bernie
13. Ross Moore
12. Evan Moynihan
11. Stephen Kennedy
10. Daragh Gilbourne – Captain
9. Conor Tracey

1. Fionn King
2. Mark McHugh
3. Andrew Sparrow
4. TomMcEniff
5. Luke Policky
6. Aaron O’Brien
7. Luca Manselli
8. Louis McGauran

16. Sean O’Leary
17. Tiernan O’Shea
18. Ruadhan Smyth
19. David Leane
20. Lucca Jennings
21. Gavin Mulvihill
22. Matthew Blake
23. Zack Hopkins

Gonzaga College:
15. Hugo McLaughlin
14. Hugo Neville
13. Hugh Goddard
12. Jody Browne
11. Oscar O’Neill
10. Stephen McMahon
9. Michael Sullivan

1. Toby Hammond
2. Tim Cotter
3. George Morris
4. Thomas Murphy
5. Luke O’Callaghan
6. Noah Maguire – Captain
7. Gavin O’Donnell
8. Paul Wilson

16. Luke McLaughlin
17. Adam McVerry
18. Tomas Noone
19. Tom Wyley
20. Morgan Tyrell
21. Oisin Murray
22. Mikey Wall
23. Aidan O’Flanagan

Newbridge College v Blackrock College – Thursday, 24 March (Energia Park, KO 3pm)

Long established as the pre-tournament favourites, Blackrock were able to overcome a serious challenge from St Michael’s in the first round.

Their Dublin 4 rivals showed how you can put the Williamstown school in a bind as long as you have the skill-set and the game plan to go with it.

Newbridge could do a lot worse than take a peek at how St Michael’s pushed ‘Rock to the brink in the 25-20 thriller.

There is no point in going toe-to-toe in the trenches where their bruising bulk was used to overpower and outflank Terenure 48-0 in the quarter-final.

On that day, Blackrock looked nigh on unbeatable in marrying the momentum gained from front-foot football to the finishing variety that comes from a physical midfield and pacy back three.

It all starts in the front row where Paddy McCarthy has arguably emerged as their best prospect for the future.

The combination of the tighthead’s impact as a multi-skilled operator and that of captain Gus McCarthy at hooker makes for a fierce front row.

The back five in the pack has a little bit of everything, going direct when the situation calls for it and getting out in support of their runners when the ball is shifted.

The peppering of Leinster and Ireland Schools talent tracks all the way from the McCarthys to full-back Ruben Moloney.

The half-backs Oliver Coffey and Zach Quirke rarely overplay their hands as facilitators for their big runners and as distributors to the wide boys.

Centres Hugh Cooney – he grabbed a brace against ‘Nure – and Luke Kritzinger are just as comfortable blocking up the midfield, taking the ball up or feeding the back three.

It all would look so incredibly daunting were it not for the recent rise of the Newbridge rugby programme under the stewardship of Johne Murphy.

Last November, their Juniors unseated Blackrock in surprisingly convincing fashion in the delayed 2021 Cup final after sharing the 2020 Senior Cup title with Clongowes Wood College.

The Kildare school is not the biggest in terms of hulking forwards. But, it might just be big and able enough to truly compete up-front.

The front row of Finn Mahon, Mark Masterson and Patrick Stapleton has already dealt with an even bigger assignment than ‘Rock in handling the weight of Belvedere (17-10) in the quarter-final.

The locks Max Barry and Shane Treacy will run, hit and hustle all afternoon long.

Captain Kieran Kelly is a no-nonsense, gritty flanker in a cohesive back row with Ronan McGroary and Sam Fitzgibbon.

From there, they do have the athleticism and the footballing ability to stretch the best defences.

Scrum-half Tadhg Brophy was instrumental in taking down Belvo’ through his sharp and incisive decision-making. The battle with Coffey will be a real treat.

It may be asking too much of their 2021 Junior Cup winning golden triangle of out-half Paddy Taylor, Todd Lawlor and Ciaran Mangan to be the sharpest points to their attack.

But, they don’t have to do it all. They just have to perform in their roles as centres John Collins and Tom Waters man the midfield and Callum Bolton covers the backfield at 15 in what is a fascinating match-up.

Newbridge College:
15. Callum Bolton
14. Todd Lawlor
13. John Collins
12. Tom Waters
11. Ciarán Mangan
10. Tom Bohan
9. Tadhg Brophy

1. Finn Mahon
2. Mark Masterson
3. Patrick Stapleton
4. Max Barry
5. Shane Treacy
6. Kieran Kelly – Captain
7. Ronán McGroary
8. Sam Fitzgibbon

16. Oliver Udell
17. Denis Downing
18. Billy Bohan
19. Sam Watson
20. Shane Davitt
21. Diarmuid Enright
22. Adam Larkin Smithers
23. Michael Collins

Blackrock College:
15. Ruben Moloney
14. Charlie Molony
13. Hugh Cooney
12. Luke Kritzinger
11. Eoghan Walsh
10. Zach Quirke
9. Oliver Coffey

1. Max Holmes
2. Gus McCarthy – Captain
3. Paddy McCarthy
4. Tom Brigg
5. Alex Mullan
6. Liam Molony
7. Inigo Cruise-O’Brien
8. Kevin Jackson

16. Mikey Yarr
17. Tom O’Riordan
18. Andreas Andersson
19. Conor Tonge
20. Jack Angulo
21. Will Fitzgerald
22. Conor O’Shaughnessy
23. Maxim Aschenbrenner