- Result: Galwegians Firsts 24 - UCD 31
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Feb 17th 2007
- Competition: AIL Division 1
Galwegians’ faint play-off hopes were formally extinguished on Saturday when an inept home performance was punished with a deserving victory for the struggling students from UCD. It was probably Wegians’ worst performance of the season, and while they can feel aggrieved about some controversial calls by referee David Keane, that does not excuse the lack of effort and discipline which marked a team performance which was well below expectations.
Despite missing U-20 lock Andrew Browne, the Blues came into this game in expectant mood as they sought to get back to winning ways. But they got off to a sluggish start from which they never truly recovered, handing the initiative to the grateful students in the process. By the end of the first quarter the visitors led by 6-3, courtesy of two penalties from centre Fergus McFadden to one from Wegians’ Nick Wakley.
The students appeared to have much more urgency to their game, and they signalled their intent when they scored the opening try on 23 minutes. When the visitors were awarded a penalty on the 22m. line, referee Keane penalised Wegians a further 10 metres for backchat. And when they kicked to the corner for a line-out, a clean take set up a rolling maul, following which no. 8 Kevin Sheahan crossed the line all to easily for the relatively lightweight student pack to stretch their lead to 11-3.
This should have served as a wake-up call to Wegians, but unfortunately it failed to rouse them out of their slumber. The line-out was a disaster zone, with Conor Muldoon having a day to forget before being replaced shortly after the restart by the returning Joey Merrigan. However the hooker was far from the only culprit, with no leadership evident from any of his pack colleagues.
Likewise the talented Wegians backline appeared listless, with out-half Paddy O’Toole an honourable exception, putting his body on the line on several occasions while also trying to spark his three-quarter line into action. Wegians were lucky not to concede a second try before the break, when a reckless pass from captain Ambrose Conboy under his posts led to a turnover, but UCD prop Brian McGovern was held up over the line. However McFadden did add a third penalty to put the students 14-3 ahead at the break, when flanker Aaron McGettigan was sin-binned.
Fired up no doubt by a robust team-talk from coach Paul Young, the Blues did start with a degree of urgency in the second-half, with prop Ross Davies and Merrigan adding some spark to the proceedings. And within four minutes they were right back in the game following an opportunistic try. When a penalty attempt by Nick Wakley rebounded off the post, his centre colleague Anthony Barrett followed up well and forced a penalty near the visitor’s line. And a quick tap by Wakley followed by a wonderful overhead flick by winger John Cleary led to a try for AIL debutant lock Tom Grey near the right-corner. Wakley then landed an excellent conversion to reduce the gap to 14-10.
However credit the students who stuck to their task, and McFadden stretched their lead to seven points on 54 minutes when Ross Davies was harshly judged to have blocked a clever chip by the same player near the 10 metre line. However Wegians continued to dominate most of the third quarter, and as the game passed the hour mark they were awarded a succession of penalties near the opposition try-line, opting for a scrum on each occasion. And referee Keane finally lost patience with the collapsing students’ scrum when he awarded a penalty try in 65 minutes, with Wakley converting to tie the game at 17-all.
At this point there looked like being only one winner as Wegians had all the momentum. However a lack of focus, discipline and unforced errors were to prove costly as the Blues handed the initiative right back to the students, who regained the lead barely three minutes later. Following pressure up the right flank, the visitors spread ball wide with men over, and although winger Vasily Artimiev dropped his pass, the referee ruled it went backwards, and the Russian gathered the ball at a second attempt and sauntered over the line to touch down for a crucial score, with McFadden converting to make it 24-17.
There was still time for Wegians to get back into it, but it was to prove a case of more squandered opportunities. Then on 77 minutes another controversial refereeing decision saw John Cleary very harshly penalised for a shoulder charge having won a mark in his 22. And the students made full capital when they kicked to the corner, secured their line-out and for the second time in the game, easily mauled their way over where this time prop McGovern did manage to ground the ball for his side’s third try, with McFadden again converting.
Wegians did manage to salvage a bonus point when, in the last play of the game, left-wing James Wakley finished well in the left corner for a try, and brother Nick’s excellent conversion crucially brought them to within 7 points at 24-31. However far from celebrating, the Welshman’s reaction to referee Keane’s final whistle was one of utter frustration, as he knew his side had grossly underperformed and handed the students a real lifeline in their battle against the drop. Indeed Wegians now need to secure at least one more win to ensure their own safety, as they look nervously over their shoulder with four games remaining.