On a cold winters day at Blaris, UUC went about defending their unbeaten league status against a Lisburn team who’s league position didn’t tell the whole story as they have picked up 7 losing bonus points with two wins from 9 outings; was this to be an omen for the students. The Uni had one change in their team with Ulster Rugby League player Andrew Winder slipping in at 9, Lee Murphy at Full Back and Callum Rodney moving to outside centre. Lisburn had one change also, with whiley old dog Mark Crowethers suffering a late hamstring injury, replaced by their promising under 20s fly half with Crowethers taking up position as defence co-ordinator.
From the off the students were camped in the Lisburn 22 with big carries by second rowers Morgan and Leonard most notable, and tight head O’Neill putting in a work-man like, and some might say dominative performance around the fringes. This possession and territory would turn out fruitless as with their first foray onto opposing territory after a 20 minute barrage, Lisburn came away with 3 points, which was quickly doubled as with the wind at their backs they looked to build up a lead with a long range effort.
Whitcroft at 10 was striking the ball beautifully out of hand, probing the corners but his place kicking, for the first time this season, went astray as the pressure of the chance to go top must of got to the young royal school Armagh man but he found his range on the stroke of half time as the students went in 6-3 down at the turn.
With the ample UUC crowd replenished with festive refreshments provided by former President Alan Sharpe’s Cognac, the support surged through the team as with the wind at their back, every poor kick was pounced on with counter attack rugby. With Jonny and Callum poking and probing up the middle, the gap was finally made after a surge by Lee Sharpe for Lee Murphy to snipe in at the corner, much to the delight of the travelling support. Whitcroft was successful with the tricky conversion to open up a 4 point gap.
From now on it was one way traffic as the UUC team, and their followers pitched camp in the Lisburn 22 as Dunlevey, Henley and Wilkinson’s ferocious tackling had knocked the literal Christmas stuffing out of their opponents. To give credit where credit is due, Lisburn’s never say die attitude was evident as they held the students for so long, but the pressure told as set piece after set piece wore down the hosts, with after a pick and go young Callum was the last one up holding the ball aloft which was appreciated by dad Ivor who made the trip from Wexford. From a similar play the next score wasn’t long in coming as Marty O’Neill scored, putting him top of the try scoring table as the Desertmartin man was again aloof as he serenaded the crowd with some magical moments.
With kicks going astray, the uni were still in command but as expected, with the last play of the game, after 18 phases, young McDowell capped a fine debt for the senior team as he scored, and kept his cool to add the extras to gain another bonus point. With this, the uni go into their next three games away form cromore road sitting 2nd in the league, a point behind accies with the final game of the season in Tyrone looking more and more interesting.
Director of rugby Brett Campbell was quoted as saying “a wins a win”, while captain Dunlevey said “at the end of the day I just want to play rugby, you know, we did it for the gaffer and ya know, you got to play for 80 minutes and I think we did that ya know. its a game of two halves and at the end of the day, baletteli should never have been sent off.” Great words from the skipper there but all roads now lead to Larne as the league takes a break for the festive period with a lot of promise shown by Eecock, Henry and Miller, their youthful experience could be vital as the uni now have 11 games in a row to push on.
It was also fantastic to see great support for the uni with no less than 5 past 1stXV Captains standing on the side lines showing their support.
Exiles legends Keith Anderson, Johnny McQuiston along with former President Steve Ickringill enjoy the Lisburn match.
Past 1stXV Captains and current exiles Gareth Neilly and Nathan Moore