KILKENNY ended up on the wrong side of a disappointing result despite producing a decent performance in the first round of the Leinster League in an absorbing game at Foulkstown.
Played in blustery and wet conditions last Saturday the hosts produced an excellent first half performance against the strong breeze to go in two points down (5-7) at half-time. The game was in their own hands but a combination of tactical immaturity, bad luck and some unacceptable indiscipline combined to turn the result in Wicklow’s favour when the game was there for Kilkenny’s taking.
After opening against the wind Kilkenny scored the first try when cohesive attacks and ball retention saw scrum-half Matthew McWey score from a wheeled scrum. However, Wicklow scored their first try after Kilkenny needlessly kicked the ball away in the 22nd minute when they should have kept ball in hand. The Wicklow full-back counterattacked, scoring a converted try under the posts.
Kilkenny drove back, but couldn’t turn possession into scores. Captain Gary Dunne thought he had bagged a try when he crossed the line following an excellent line-out, but it was disallowed by the referee on a marginal call.
Turning at half-time with the strong wind in their favour Kilkenny failed to put Wicklow under pressure. Several chances were just inches from completion, with overlaps going astray.
Midway through the half fate intervened as Kilkenny were awarded a penalty advantage on half-way. They could have opted to kick into the corner, but playing the free ball advantage the back line expertly created an overlap without breaking the gain line. As the referee called advantage over the ball was passed forward. Wicklow gained the scrum, broke away and scored in the corner to turn the game on its head.
Kilkenny began to work their way downfield again. With ten minutes left to play Sean Moran kicked a good penalty to leave four points between the teams (8-12). Kilkenny still had time to go back on the attack but they ran several penalties from inside their own half, giving the ball back to Wicklow and allowing themselves to be pinned in their own half when a simple kick down the line would have put the visitors under pressure.
More ill discipline from the hosts saw Wicklow get a clear run to the line from half-way when there was no danger. The resulting penalty, scored with three minutes to go, left Kilkenny with the task of scoring near the posts to draw instead of pressing for a try to win. In a nail-biting finish Cormack Connolly, Paddy Mullen and Gary Dunne all came close but Wicklow held out for the win.
Gary Dunne excelled for Kilkenny and was ably supported by Nick Feehan, who grew into his new role as hooker. With no fewer than four of the 18 players playing their first games of rugby ever, while three others have only just played a handful of games between them, there is a bright future for the side.
The Kilkenny under-17s face a key game against old rivals New Ross on Saturday. It is expected that another few dual players will be returning this week to further strengthen the panel, while more newcomers will also be given a chance to start this must-win game.