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  U13 Leinster League Semi-final
Saturday 27th February, 2010
Portlaoise Rugby Club

Kilkenny 10-21 Tullamore  

Kilkenny returned to the scene of their fine quarter final win on another lovely, bright morning to take on Tullamore for a place in the Leinster final. In front of a large, vocal crowd two well matched teams tore into each other from the off with Kilkenny forwards Jay Leahy, Noel Whelan and Gareth Graham very prominent in the opening exchanges.

Tullamore weathered early Kilkenny pressure and after 12 minutes won a scrum in Kilkenny’s 22 near the left touchline. A quick heel and two good rucks presented the ball that their back line expertly passed out to their lightning quick right wing who dived over for a try despite a fine tackle from Paddy Ryan.

A lack of concentration from the kick off by Kilkenny saw Tullamore get a very handy score when their tall left wing raced untouched up the touchline and score under the posts to leave Kilkenny 14 points down after quarter of an hour.

Any questions Tullamore might have had about Kilkenny’s appetite for the contest were soon dispelled as the boys in black dominated the game for much of the rest of the half.

Centre Michael Ryan and wing Lyndon Brannigan made great ground with hard, straight running forcing another in what proved to be a string of penalties against Tullamore. The ball was quickly fired out to the other side of the pitch where, from a free kick, No 8 Daniel O’Connor made good ground. Inside centre William Spencer bravely recovered a loose pass winning a penalty when his tackler flopped down on him 35 metres from Tullamore’s line.

Kilkenny kicked to touch, won the line out and centre Ryan and wing Brannigan again combined well to take play to 10 metres from the try line. Quick hands from the Kilkenny half backs got flanker Jay Leahy into space where he drew two defenders and passed to Paddy Ryan who dived over for a fine team score. The try was just reward for the big hearted wing who constantly punched above his weight here, putting in four tigerish tackles on his opposite number, always getting across the gain line in possession and making one great turnover near the end of the half.

From this steal scrum half Ian Buckley hared up the blindside before setting up for driving runs from front rows Mark Carrigan and Gareth Graham and two charging bursts from Noel Whelan-he and his second row partner Finn Connolly both having excellent games-before the ball was released to the backs. No. 12 Spencer straightened the move beautifully and passed to the ever-dangerous Michael Ryan who made ground himself and fed replacement wing Darren Mullen. Mullen finished in thrilling style by going outside the first defender and stepping inside the second to leave the half time score at 14 points to 10 to the Offaly team.

The second half, although an excellent game for the spectator, ultimately proved a great frustration for Kilkenny. Despite winning plenty of possession and spending long periods in the opposition half a number of unforced errors by Kilkenny and a series of infringements by Tullamore combined to constantly break their momentum.

After only three minutes strong bursts from Gareth Graham and back row Daniel Rafter followed by silky running from William Spencer led to a line out which Kilkenny lost. Five minutes later and a Kilkenny scrum on the Tullamore 22 was lost and only fine defending from Michael Ryan and Darren Mullen prevented a breakaway try. From a scrum on the half way back row O’Connor, both second rows and out half Jake McDonald crashed into the 22 before being awarded yet another penalty. Seeing space on the left McDonald quickly tapped the penalty and passed outside him only for a knock on to squander the chance.

After 20 minutes a series of four penalties in quick succession against an increasingly undisciplined Tullamore side led to a Kilkenny attack that was halted by a very high tackle on Jake McDonald by his opposite number. The Kilkenny number 10, although clearly shook by the tackle, gathered his wits and five minutes later was sharp enough to make a fine interception and incisive break.

In the final minute Kilkenny attempted to run a ball from a ruck 15 metres from their own line. Sadly, a misplaced place pass was picked off by the Tullamore left wing who raced gratefully over for the clinching try leaving the final score 21 points to 10 to Tullamore and we wish them good luck in the final.

Niall McDermott, 27 February 2010