A fight can sometimes be a good thing. Portlaoise gave Kilkenny the mother of all frights in Sunday’s JI Leinster Rugby League encounter played in near perfect conditions in Foulkstown.
Both sides were in dire need of a win; Kilkenny to move beyond third in the table and Portlaoise to get off the floor.
Kilkenny were without Aiden and Jake McDonald, full-back Liam Caddy, props Hugh O’Brien and Conan Dune and winger Sean Moran.
Despite the losses, they started well. In the 13th minute and beginning to make yards Kilkenny were awarded a second penalty on half way. McInerney slotted a kick to touch deep in the visitors red zone.
From the lineout the pack, directed by scrum half Dearan McGrath, drove and crossed the line. Loosehead Conor Dempsey claimed the credit. McInerney missed the conversion.
In the 20th minute Kilkenny lost imposing lock Graham Logan. His replacement was the influential Wes Carter.
Logan’s bulk and size were missed at scrum time. Portlaoise gained the upper hand at the set piece.
From here the fare was dour. On 30 minutes Kilkenny conceded nine handling errors and were turned over at least four times.
The O’Moore men dictated the pace of game and slowed down Kilkenny. Just before the break Joe Manuel made an impressive break but the support let him down.
The Kilkenny coaching team voiced their dissatisfaction during the break.
The words fell on deaf ears. The next 30 minutes were played between both 10m lines.
Kilkenny tried to play their expansive game, but they weren’t given an inch.
Kilkenny tried but they could not break down the visitors. The forwards, whose endeavours were exceptional, could not get fast ball to the backs.
Portlaoise used every tackle to hold up Kilkenny; every breakdown to slow down the ball.
In possession Portlaoise looked threatening and their strong pack took the game to the opposition.
With the score 5-0 after minutes 50, Portlaoise took over. Up to the 65th minute they threw everything they could at the home side.
To Kilkenny's credit their defence was impeccable, well organised, efficient and players dug deep to hold out. A lost opportunity could spell the end of their league challenge.
Word was passed from the sideline to the Kilkenny players that North Kildare were beating Tullow. This news seemed to inspire Kilkenny.
In the 70th minute the home side were awarded a penalty inside the visitors half. McInerney took play up to half way. Carter athletically collected the lineout from an accurate Martin Leahy throw, popped off the top to McGrath who passed first phase ball to his back line.
A series of dummy lines by Ti Lewington and Jay Leahy left Podge Mahon with possession and space. He raced 40 metres to a superb try.
McInerney added the extras taking the score to 12-0 after 70 minutes.
Kilkenny were soon back in the visitors territory. Martin Leahy and No 8 Idris Rqiby made yards. Releasing the ball, McGrath found Joe Manuel on the 5m line, and he chipped over, collected and scored Kilkenny’s third try.
Again McInerney added the extras. With 76 minutes played the score was 17-0.
Aware of the score in the Tullow versus North Kildare game, team captain Podge Mahon urged his players to make one big push for a fourth bonus point score.
Up stood Rory McInerney five minutes into over time. He received possession on the Portlaoise 10 metre line and exploded through a gap, sprinting 80 metres to touch down.
When the referee blew the final whistle a sigh of relief was audible from all corners of Foulkstown. A miraculous bonus point win, combined with Tullow's one point loss, propelled the Cats into outright second place in the league, three points behind Suttonians and one ahead of next week’s opponents Tullow.
This was a difficult game for Kilkenny, and you have to wonder why Portlaoise are so far down the table. They really made the day hard for Kilkenny.
The winners will need a vast improvement for next week's tie away to Tullow. The back line will need to be far more efficient. There was a clear break down in flow in the center, which will need attention.
The forwards carrying will need improvement too. Their carrying position made it easy for Portlaoise to defend.
On a positive note, Kilkenny’s defence was rock solid. For long periods Portlaoise threatened, but they couldn't break down the Noresiders.
A win against old rivals Tullow is a must. That is no easy task, but Sunday's test will stand to Kilkenny.
Despite the poor team performance, Kilkenny had some excellent individual performers. Big Canadian second row Andy Nyenhuis is coming into his own, and his lineouts and ball carrying are important to Kilkenny’s game plan.
Joe Manuel was excellent at full-back, while Rory McInerney, though his defence needs improving, his attacking play was excellent.
Kilkenny’s standout man was Conahy’s Gary Dunne. Since his return he added aggression, work rate and a winning attitude to the squad.
Kilkenny Firsts (1 to 15) - Conor Dempsey (5pts, 1 try), Martin Leahy, Simon O'Shea, Graham Logan, Andy Nyenhuis, Gary Dunne, Jason Connolly, Idris Rquiby, Dearan McGrath, Rory McInerney (11pts, 1 try, 3 con), Lyndon Brannigan, Podge Mahon, capt (5pts, 1 try), Ti Lewington, Jay Leahy, Joe Manuel (5pts, 1 try). Subs - Darragh Farragher, Brendan McIntyre, Wes Carter, Hugh Lane, Ronan Moran.
The Seconds scored a solid 36-17 win over Portlaoise, scoring six tries.
Kilkenny had good performers in Dylan Stokes, Drew Phelan and Jamie Quane.
This win was important and gave Kilkenny a 50% win rate for the season. With the Cup on the horizon, coaches Daly, Lawler and Manuel are looking to build and drive forward.
Kilkenny Seconds - Ken Shirley, Ben Devlin, Wayne Byrne, Brendan McIntyre, Seamus Corcoran, Kyle Edwards, Ronan Moran, Dylan Stokes, Ciaran Sutton, Cormac Connolly, Aiden Lawley, Hugh Lane, Jamie Quane, Sean Flynn, Alan O’Donovan. Subs - Liam O’Neill, Philip Walsh, Orrin Ryan, Drew Phelan, Ivan Dunne.
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