Kilkenny Firsts showed no mercy. They pulverised Portlaoise for a second week running in Foulkstown on Sunday, this time in the Leinster Provincial Towns Cup, winning 32-15, writes Padraig Treacy.
The winners beat Portlaoise 51-15 in their Leinster League the previous week and have amassed an enormous 83 points against these opponents in seven days. This must surely be a sore point for the midlands squad as well as losing a chance to win the oldest and most coveted trophy in Irish rugby.
With ground conditions very soft underfoot and a gale force wind blowing straight down the pitch, Kilkenny had all the work to do in the opening quarter of this vital cup clash in spite of playing with the wind. Despite the heavy loss suffered at the same venue last week, a new look Portlaoise
squad battered Kilkenny from the opening whistle.
The locals tackling let them down on occasion but this of course added to the spectacle that is Towns Cup rugby.
Despite the shaky start, Kilkenny led proceedings after four minutes when they were awarded a penalty just inside their own half. Out-half, Willie Wright cleverly opted to kick for touch using the strong wind in his back and landed the ball deep in the opponents 22. Hooker Martin Leahy threw the ball with pinpoint accuracy to Victor Ryan at the front of the lineout. Leahy was there again to gather the ball from his jumper on return to terra-firma.
Charged over line
With the maul set up and Leahy firmly in control he charged over the line to give Kilkenny the opening score and deserved lead. Despite the difficult angle, Wright judged the wind perfectly and the ball sailed between the posts and off into the distance, giving some poor unfortunate spectator the unenviable task of retrieving the ball from some distant location outside the boundaries of the club!
With the first quarter elapsed, Kilkenny began to settle into the task at hand and were awarded a penalty on 20 minutes, again just inside their own half. This time Wright looked at the posts and he split the sticks with a beautiful kick, bringing back memories for many older fans of the kicking exploits of the great and former Towns Cup winner Billy Ayres in his heyday.
Seven minutes later inside centre, Joey Manuel, crossed the line for what has to be the “try of the season” for Kilkenny. Following a Portlaoise ruck, their scrum half chipped the ball over the heads of the defending team. Manuel was perfectly placed to gather the ball in his own half and he set off on one of his trademark jinking runs.
However, instead of looking for a gap in the defence he directed his attention straight at the former ruck and caught his opponents off guard. He burst through and rounded a number of defenders. With only the full-back to beat he chipped the ball over the defender’s head and gathered it in mid-air before sprinting for the line and the touchdown under the posts.
Wright added the easy conversion, giving the home-side a comfortable 17-0 lead.
Portlaois fared a bit better when the home team became a bit complacency. The locals paid the price for this on 35 minutes when Portlaoise charged over for a try. They missed the conversion attempt.
Kilkenny dusted themselves off and hit back like a thunderbolt. They drove their opponents back into their own half and were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time, five metres from the line. The famous ‘Lar’s Ball’ was called into play. It worked a treat when giant second row, Victor Ryan touched down for a try. Wright converted to give the hosts a well-deserved 24-5 half-time lead.
Kilkenny were the dominant force at the beginning of the second half until flanker, Ray Pembroke was yellow carded for an off-the-ball offence. Portlaoise took full advantage of the situation and with Kilkenny down to 14 men, they piled on the pressure.
Their efforts paid off when they crossed for a converted try in the 60th minute and added a further three points to their tally four minutes later. Now the game was well and truly on.
Kilkenny made a number of changes, bringing on the awesome Willie Duggan, who missed last week’s encounter due to an eye injury. Duggan’s efforts and fresh legs made a huge difference. In the 75th minute Portlaoise were penalised for a high- tackle which saw the offender sit out the rest of the game.
Wright’s attempt was caught by the wind and drifted wide. To add to their woes, Kilkenny lost Joey Manuel through injury. He was replaced by the ever confident Ben O’Connor. Coach Ashmore also made a few changes to his tiring pack and brought on Eddie Brennan for Simon O’Shea andRay Pembroke for Gerry Clarke.
With the game approaching completion, Kilkenny launched one last effort. Scrum-half, Clive Kavanagh crossed the Portlaois line to secure the win for the home-side. Wright missed the conversion but it didn’t matter as the final whistle blew.
All in all this was a huge performance from the locals, who are getting stronger every week. Despite a fabulous performance from all players, Wayne Kavanagh, Victor Ryan and Clive Kavanagh were without doubt the best on the day, with loose-head prop Wayne Kavanagh collecting the ‘man of the match’ award for his solid scrummaging, ball carrying and driving runs throughout the entire 80 minutes.
Away to Tullow
Kilkenny advance to the next round and will square up to Tullow on February 17. Tullow secured a good win over Rathdrum, who they beat 38-0. This will be without doubt a tough game. Tullow have home advantage. However, nothing is impossible in the Towns Cup.
All eyes will be on this game as it sees Division 2A league leaders play the Division 1B league leaders. In addition, Tullow reached the final of last year’s competition but lost narrowly to eventual winners Enniscorthy.
Given Kilkenny’s recent form and success rate, the Foulkstowners will prove a hard team to beat and Tullow will have all the work to do.
Meanwhile, Kilkenny Seconds begin their ’Cup campaign at home to Tullamore on Sunday. Coach Nigel Daly has seen his team improve immensely over the past few weeks and is hoping they will continue this good form for this vital knockout game. Kick off in
Foulkstown is at 2.30pm.
Kilkenny Firsts - Mark Coughlan, Alan Pembroke, Philly Walsh, Joey Manuel, Rod Hogan, Willie Wright, Clive Kavanagh, Philly Ryan, Ray Pembroke, Diarmaid Hickey, Gerry Clarke, Victor Ryan, Simon O’Shea, Martin Leahy, Wayne Kavanagh. Subs - Eddie Brennan, Emmet Lynch, Willie Duggan, Gerry Callinan, Ben O’Connor.