Naas 8 : Navan 6
Outstanding commitment and endeavor saw Naas Under 16s battle to a tense 8 : 6 victory at Forenaughts on Saturday. Naas and Navan are old adversaries at youth level having met frequently Under 14 and Schools Junior Cup over recent seasons. Navan had held the upper hand with victories on three previous encounters so it was not hard to motivate the local lads on this occasion. The weather at Forenaughts was cold with gusting winds blowing from the Johnstown end of the ground. It was not ideal for the high-tempo running game both teams prefer. As both sides came into this match unbeaten it was clear from the outset that neither was prepared to give any concessions.
There was a good gathering of spectators present and they were impressed by the standard of rugby on display on the first pitch at Naas. The opening period was tough with both sides trying to dictate the pattern of the game. Navan were using their big mobile pack to move the ball into the Naas half. The referee had to keep a tight eye on proceedings as the packs tried to get control. Hands in the ruck; diving in; going to ground; not releasing; were all penalised in the opening quarter. On 10 minutes Navan took the lead when they converted a penalty from inside the Naas 22. Naas responded with strong attack – Darragh Redfern took a high clearance inside his own 22, rather than kick into the gusting wind he carried the ball back into the Navan half before releasing his centres – Conor Fitzsimmons and Ryan Casey. The Navan defence held the attack on their own 22 but good hands by Padraig O’Brien and Robert Campbell brought the ball close to the Navan line. Unfortunately for Naas the Navan defence forced the attackers into touch and saved the day. On 17 minutes Naas were awarded a penalty outside the Navan 22. Robert Bryan took a quick penalty and supported by fellow prop Eoghan Griffin made an additional ten meters. Navan infringed again in front of their own posts. Robert Campbell converted the resuling penalty. Navan then took full advantage of wind conditions with some long relieving clearances from inside their own 22. The gusting winds made it difficult for defenders to judge the dropping ball thereby putting the defence under pressure. The Naas second row was dominating the lineouts with Rory Tyrrell and Kieran Long disrupting much of the Navan lineout ball. In addition Robin Brickell and Gary Hansell were recovering a lot of ball at the breakdown. Despite this Naas fell further behind when on 30 minutes they were penalised again at the breakdown. Navan again converted to take a 6 : 3 lead. With many injuries in the half the referee played an additional 5 minutes, during which there were no further scores.
The second half opened with Naas pressing hard for the equalising score. An early penalty rebounded off the upright. Rob Bryan was quick to the breakdown and having picked up the loose ball charged for the line. In desperation Navan conceded a penalty. Naas took a quick one, moving the ball to the wing. A combination of fierce defensive tackling and cold hands cost Naas the lead. Would Naas regret not taking the points before the game was over? Navan resorted to long clearances to relieve pressure. Fionan Leahy’s positional sense and good hands meant that there were no easy chances for the visitors. The Naas pack was also getting on top with two strikes against the head. In defence Lorcan Murphy was picking up and making significant yards before laying back to Padraig O’Brien who fed the three quarters. Unfortunately this play was not being reflected on the scoreboard. On 12 minutes we had a lengthy stoppage as the Naas prop, Eoghan Griffin, was treated for an injury. Before restarting the game the referee issued a yellow card to the offending Navan player. Excellent discipline by Naas and good management by the referee ensured things were kept well under control thereafter.
With 32 minutes gone and both sides figuring how long the referee would allow for injury time Navan made a concerted effort to kill off the game - keeping possession inside the Naas 22. A hard tackle from Robin Brickell resulted in a knock-on. Naas were rock solid in the scrum allowing Lorcan Murphy to pick up and move left. Moving the ball across the line, Padraig O’Brien, Robert Campbell, Conor Fitzsimmons and Ryan Casey all made yards before releasing Lorcan Ryan just inside the Naas 22. Time was almost up and Ryan was now well away from his support. Breaking a loose tackle he set off on the lonely sprint for the Navan line some 75 meters ahead. A few tired tackles slowed him, however encouraged by the vocal support of the Naas supporters, he continued his run twisting out of a tackle by the Navan fullback. When he seemed to be cornered he ‘jinked’ wide again and completed the final 22 meters on his own to cross the Navan line for the deciding score of the game. All expected the final whistle, but the referee called play-on. Eventually after 8 minutes of injury time the ball was fed back to Robert Campbell who cleared to touch. The final whistle sounded –at last. Naas had avenged those many defeats over the last few seasons and were now leading the Northern Division of the League. No doubt these sides will meet again before the League is finalised.
NAAS SQUAD : Robert Bryan; Eoin Breen; Eoghan Griffin; Rory Tyrrell; Kieran Long; Gary Hansell; Robin Brickell; Lorcan Murphy; Padraig O'Brien; Robert Campbell; Darragh Redfern; Conor Fitzsimons; Ryan Casey; Lorcan Ryan; Fionan Leahy; Ross Bergin; Cathal Breslin; Conor Carolan; Eoin Grogan; Sean Gainey; Niall Gorry; Sean Kelly; James Keogh; Eoghan Kiely; Bearaigh O'Halloran; Jack O'Keeffe