UCC 17 Terenure College 37
FOR the opening 25 minutes of their first energia All-Ireland League Division 1A game of the season, all was well with the world for the young and inexperienced Cork students.
The Mardyke on Saturday was bathed in a warmish sunshine though a strengthening wind blowing off the river made conditions quite deceptive as College raced into a 13-point lead.
But, by the time referee George Clancy blew his whistle for the final time, the reality of life in the top echelon of club rugby in Ireland had been forcefully driven home by the power and ruthlessness of the Dublin visitors.
Just five College starters had previous AIL experience, second-rows Mark Bissessar and Richard Thompson, flanker Ronan Barry, captain Rob Hedderman at full-back and Louis Bruce on the left wing.
At the conclusion 16 more players in the famous skull and crossbones jerseys had sampled elite action and the lessons were there for all to observe and absorb.
Compare all that raw energy with the more streetwise Jordan Coughlan, Harrison Brewer and James Connolly in the Terenure back-row.
First, the good bits. In the opening sequence, Terenure are pinged at the breakdown and Hedderman kicks the initial points of the 18-game programme.
Just before the water break, Hedderman kicked his second penalty after the visitors veered offside in front of their own post.
Within five minutes, College’s advantaged stretched to 13, courtesy of a Thompson block down of an attempted clearance from scrum-half Alan Bennie.
The second-row outpaced the cover to touch down and with Hedderman adding the extras, UCC were entitled to feel more than satisfied with the start.
However, a 10-minute spell exposed the students to the harsh realities of the top tier as Terenure crossed for three tries in the left corner to turn the game on its head.
A side of Nure’s nous doesn’t require second invitations, when it comes to their opponents missing touch with kicks, falling off tackles or sloppy handling.
Still, their first try after 27 minutes reflected their threat, showing good hands and back up support for Bennie to complete a fine move to begin the comeback.
College’s inability to control their own line-out close to their own try-line led to the first of Stephen O’Neill’s hat-trick of tries with James Thorton converting for 13-12.
Then, just before the interval, Terenure struck a third time, though they enjoyed a large slice of luck with the bouncing ball which allowed O’Neill hand his side a 17-13 half-time lead.
The students were stunned by the scoring blitz and they were fortunate not to concede again straight from the re-start, but they escaped with a relieving penalty.
Thornton’s 46th minute penalty moved College out of losing bonus-point territory though a weaving run by Bruce exerted pressure on the Terenure defence, which stood firm to turn possession their way.
Typically, Bennie spotted a gap and from deep turned defence into attack, which had the scrambling student defence on high alert and just about surviving.
The closing quarter, however, showed tired College bodies trying to stem what must have felt like a tide as Nure collected their fourth try for the bonus.
Ironically, it came from former PBC and UCC player, Peter Sylvester, summoned from the bench during the second-half.
He dotted dwn in the 75th minute and a couple of minutes later O’Neill bagged his hat-trick and his side’s fifth following a flowing move from way out with Thornton adding the extras.