City of Armagh First XV recorded their first home victory in Division 1A of the Energia All Ireland League on Saturday when they came from behind to defeat Dublin University in a tense encounter at the Palace Grounds. Armagh were without their captain, John McKinley and Timmy McNeice through injury, however the bench included Chris Colvin and Jack Treanor, returning from injury, while James McNabney was set to make his City of Armagh debut. Trinity kicked off towards the Palace with a light breeze behind them and secured possession from the kickoff and won an early penalty. Outhalf, Harry Colbert converted the kick for a 0-3 lead with a minute played. Brayden Laing had a chance to tie the match on 5 minutes, but his 40 metre kick was wide of the posts.
Despite the high tempo start by the visitors, Armagh got their hands on the ball and a good attack led to a goal line drop out. Finding their attacking edge, Nigel Simpson made a line break in Trinity territory, but the students turned over possession. Just past the 10 minute mark, Armagh conceded two penalties in succession, giving the opportunity for Trinity to set up attacking lineouts. From the second attempt, flanker Aaron Coleman touched down for the game’s opening try. Colbert’s conversion had Armagh 10 points in arrears with 15 minutes played. The home side responded with a sustained attack following a penalty and with the referee playing advantage, the ball was moved to the right where Shea O’Brien, playing in the centre, squeezed in for an unconverted try in the corner and 5-10 at the end of the first quarter. The students continued to move the ball wide at every opportunity, probing for a gap in the Armagh defence.
The home side’s discipline was not great and penalties continued to be conceded, putting Trinity on the front foot. Another catch and drive looked ominous for Armagh but a penalty against the visitors saw Laing clear the pressure with a good kick to touch. Trinity continued to dominate the first half and a scrum penalty from Colbert edged the students further ahead, 5-13 with 5 minutes to the interval. Armagh won possession from the restart and set up some attacking phases on the Trinity 22. Cameron Doak almost burst through as did O’Brien, but Trinity’s defence held firm, clearing to halfway. A penalty for a high tackle set up another Armagh attack and in injury time, Trinity conceded a penalty in front of their posts. Laing converted and the halftime whistle blew with the scoreline, City of Armagh 8 Dublin University 13.
The second half began with Mullan and McNabney joining the action and the former Ireland under 20 player made an immediate impact with some abrasive drives as Armagh started strongly. From a Trinity five metre lineout, the visitors spilled the ball and Armagh attacked with Willis close to sending in O’Brien in for his second try but was forced into touch. Following the lineout, Armagh won a penalty and kicked into the cormer. Their set piece worked well and hooker, Jonny Morton touched down for Armagh’s second try for Laing to convert. Armagh now led for the first time in the match, 15-13. Another spell of indiscipline from Armagh saw a yellow card for Shea O’Brien and Trinity missed a kick at the posts. Buoyed by the extra man, Trinity attacked strongly and looked set to retake the lead with a try, but they knocked on over the tryline leading to a goal line drop out. The students then ran the ball from their 22 making 50 metres with Armagh’s defence under pressure.
Their cause wasn’t helped when James Crummie received a yellow card and the home side were down to 13 men. Trinity kicked to the corner and their well-executed lineout maul led to the inevitable try which Colbert converted to put the Dublin students ahead, 15-23 with 63 minutes played. From the restart, Sam Cunningham and Jack Treanor carried strongly as Armagh looked to respond. Trinity still threatened when moving the ball wide and only a forward pass prevented a likely score. With 15 minutes remaining and O’Brien back on the field, Armagh pressed strongly for a score and Dylan Nelson would have scored in the corner if the pass hadn’t been forward. Armagh now had the upper hand in the scrum and won two penalties 10 metres from the Trinity tryline. Laing kicked into the corner and this time it was the Armagh catch and drive that saw a try for replacement hooker, Jack Treanor.
The match was tied at 23 all and Laing faced a tricky conversion. The outhalf put in a quality kick and Armagh were back in front, 25-23 with two minutes, plus injury time remaining. The home side then put in a strong defensive shift to keep Trinity pined in their half as the clock wound down. The students however went through several phases to take play up to the halfway line and in the 85th minute, Armagh were penalised for not rolling away. Colbert had a 50 metre kick in front of the posts to win the match for Trinity.
The home supporters were relieved when the ball went left of the upright and the final whistle blew for the Armagh victory. Remarkably, after four league matches, newly promoted City of Armagh has climbed to fourth place in the league table. Despite the four valuable points, Head coach, Chris Parker, commented, “this was a disappointing performance on a number of fronts. Following the narrow loss at home to Lansdowne, credit to the boys for finding a way to dig out the victory against a skilful and dogged Dublin University team. As a group we know we will have to be better in all areas when we play league leaders, Clontarf.
To come away with four points when being well below par is a positive we will take.” Next up for City of Armagh is a trip to Dublin to play Clontarf RFC, the first ever fixture between the two clubs. With the hosts top of the table with four wins from four, this will be the sternest challenge to date for the Palace Grounds outfit and they will need plenty of travelling support for encouragement. Kick off at Castle Avenue is 2.30pm.
Photo Credits: Colin Heyburn