Kilkenny wrapped up their South East League group campaign with a flourish when they scored a comprehensive away win over Arklow.
The reward for the team is a place in the league final, where they will play the winners of Gorey and Enniscorthy.
Dominating the opposition from the beginning it was difficult for Kilkenny to take anything from the game, but gave the management a selection headache as players put their hands up for starting places in the team for next week’s Leinster League opener versus Coolmine.
The game was played in damp conditions, with a strong breeze blowing in from the Irish Sea. Despite this Kilkenny immediately got down to business, with out-half Jake McDonald going over for a try after only two minutes.
McDonald failed to add land the conversion but Kilkenny’s hold on the game was clear for all in attendance to see. Dominating play and territory Kilkenny continued as they started and scored three additional first half tries.
Full-back Liam Caddy crossed the line on seven minutes, back row Jason Connolly added the second on 23 before, on the stroke of half-time, wing Lyndon Brannigan scored the third. With Caddy adding two conversions, the visitors were 24-0 up at half-time.
With the game all but won coach Dermot Dunne used the interval to change things around, switching Liam Caddy from full-back to out-half with McDonald moving to centre.
The instructions from Dunne were simple: players were asked to use the second half to execute game plan, work on patterns and build defensive communication.
Starting the second half as they did the first Kilkenny struck for an early try through hooker Martin Leahy. This time McDonald made no mistake with the conversion.
Kilkenny continued their dominance and the players responded to their coach’s request, adding a further five tries. Scores came in the 45th minute through scrum-half Ciaran Sutton, prop Chris Brady adding another five minutes later before destructive tighthead Simon O’Shea scored his side’s eighth try on the hour.
McDonald got his second try of the game with five minutes left - but the men in black weren’t finished yet. Brilliant half-back play on the Arklow 10 metre line sent winger Joe Manuel crossing the whitewash. Despite having a lot to do when receiving the ball Manuel made small work of the oncoming defenders to touch down under the posts. In the final play of the game Arklow No 8 breached the Kilkenny defensive line, getting in for a consolation try.
Kilkenny know they will come up against stronger opposition in the months ahead but nevertheless it was an impressive display. It was an all-round team win but the performance of full-back Liam Caddy must be noted as he was instrumental in the victory.
Merit must also given to Jake McDonald who contributed 22pts (two tries and six conversions) and to hooker Martin Leahy who added his first try of the season to a flawless performance.
Arklow, to their credit, never lost focus. Despite the result they took a lot from the game, which they will bring into their own Division 2B League campaign.
Kilkenny went into the game without the services of First XV players Wes Carter, Andy Nyenhuis, Ti Lewington and Dearan McGrath who were rested due to knocks & niggles.
Picking a starting XV for the Coolmine game will not be an easy task for Dunne and his coaching team, especially given the performances of the aforementioned foursome, who will come back into the mix during the week.
Through pre-season and the South East campaign many players put their hands up for selection. Depth in the pack will be key and the addition of Zimbabwean Under-20s international Graham Logan will be a considerable boost to the squad.
An Irish passport holder, Logan has been playing in South Africa for some time and has progressed through the youth academy of Perotia based super rugby franchise The Bulls. The loss of club captain David O’Connor, who moves to Helsinki for work commitments, will be a blow but the squad will consolidate and will move forward.
On current evidence there is no reason why this team won’t be challenging for title honours in both League and Towns Cup this year.
SCORERS: Jake McDonald 22pts (two tries, six conversions), Liam Caddy 7pts (try, conversion), Jason Connolly 5pts (try), Lyndon Brannigan 5pts (try), Martin Leahy 5pts (try), Ciaran Sutton 5pts (try), Chris Brady 5pts (try), Simon O’Shea 5pts (try), Joe Manual 5pts (try).
Kilkenny Firsts - 1 Hugh O’Brien, 2 Martin Leahy, 3 Simon O’Shea, 4 Chris Brady, 5 Liam O’Neill, 6 Darragh Farragher, 7 Jason Connolly, 8 Graham Logan, 9 Ciaran Sutton, 10 Jake McDonald, 11 Lyndon Brannigan, 12 Aiden McDonald, 13 Podge Mahon (capt), 14 Joe Manuel, 15 Liam Caddy. Replacements: 16 Ivan Dunne, 17 Ken Shirley, 18 Sean Moran, 19 Cormac Connolly, 20 Sean Flynn.
The Second XV’s scheduled friendly against Naas was cancelled but coaches Barry Daly and Derek Lawlor are feeling quite positive about the season ahead.
The return of many stalwarts will give the Seconds considerable experience. Youth players Jay Leahy, Ian Holohan and Eric Mahon will add energy to a side hoping to challenge for honours at the season’s end.
Youth training has now recommenced, with new players always welcome. Training for Minis and under-7s to under-12s is also back with training every Sunday from 10.30am. Further information on training times is available from kilkennyrugby.com.
Leinster League - Coolmine v Kilkenny First XV (A). Kick-off 3pm.
Coolmine v Kilkenny Second XV (A). Kick-off 1.30pm.