All Ireland League – Old Wesley 25 Highfield 22
Old Wesley maintained their 100 per cent All Ireland League record last Saturday when beating current league leaders, Highfield, in a pulsating encounter in Energia Park, Donnybrook. The final scoreline of 25-22 adequately reflected the closeness of the encounter between the only 2 unbeaten teams in Division 1B.
Highfield got off to a very lively start and, on 6 minutes, they engineered an opening in the corner for winger, Paul Stack, to get over for an unconverted try. Wesley struck soon after when, after good continuity play, David Poff ran a great line to ground far out, with Rory Stynes narrowly missing the conversion – 5-5. The large and well – drilled Highfield pack gave the Wesley eight a serious examination throughout the eighty minutes, but the home side stuck manfully to the task and met the challenge “ head on”, despite being under pressure at times in the scrums.
On 23 minutes, Wesley had an excellent attack, which was thwarted near the line. A feature of the match was the fearsome tackling of both back-lines, with clear-cut opportunities being few and far between. On 28 minutes, Wesley produced the move of the match to unlock the stubborn Highfield defence – Poff passed on the inside to Stynes, who returned the pass and the centre made a great break, followed by a sublime long pass to fellow centre, Ed O’Keefe, who streaked over in the corner. Stynes embellished this wonderful score by landing the conversion from the touch line – Wesley lead 12-5. Inevitably, Highfield struck back and, despite some heroic defence, Wesley finally conceded a penalty on 35 minutes, which outhalf, Shane O’Riordan, calmly converted to leave the half time score 12-8.
Wesley opened the scoring in the second half when, on 46 minutes, Highfield were penalised for crossing in the middle of the field and Stynes duly slotted the easy penalty from 30 metres- 15-8 Wesley. Highfield continued their forward pressure in pursuit of an equalising score but a great turnover penalty by Paul Derham seemed to have lifted the siege. However, Wesley lost the ensuing line out and Highfield made the most of it and after a number of passages of play, second row, Eoin Keating, eventually went over for a try, converted by O’Sullivan. 15-15.
After 60 minutes, Wesley won a great scrum turnover and, after strong pressure, the Highfield defence conceded a penalty, which the ever-reliable Stynes duly slotted to inch Wesley into the lead again – 18-15. Highfield fought back and a wonderful clearance from replacement scrum half, Craig Miller (who came on for his brother, Josh) lifted the siege for Wesley. However, after 67 minutes, things looked bleak for the homesters when Highfield drove over for another converted try, scored by winger, Colin O’Neill, to take the lead 22-18. The tremendous attitude and confidence of this Old Wesley side was never more clearly illustrated than by the “bounce back” reaction following this score. They, immediately, gained a foothold in the Highfield half and out half, Tom Kiersey, made a typically incisive break “through the eye of a needle” and replacement flanker, Josh Pim crashed over from the ensuing ruck and Stynes added the points to put the home side into the lead again – 25-22.
The drama was not over, however, as Highfield stormed back and had the home defence under strong pressure but some Herculean tackling from the Wesley defence kept them at bay. Highfield, in pursuit of a winning (and bonus point) try, eschewed 2 very kickable penalties for a draw and the final action saw Wesley superbly rob an attacking 5 metre line-out to get the ball off the park in advance of the final whistle. What a dramatic ending and Wesley have shown this season that winning tight matches is a nice habit to get into.
Highfield remain on top by 3 points, but Wesley have a game in hand, so things are very tight between the top two, with the third placed team, Old Belvedere, 7 points further back. Wesley have a tough assignment away to Malone next Saturday, but, after 7 consecutive wins, hopes are high that another victory up North can be achieved.
Old Wesley Team :Rory Stynes, Tommy O’Callaghan, Ed O’Keefe, David Poff, Richie Walsh, Tom Kiersey, Josh Miller, James Burton, Ben Burns, Conor Maguire, JJ O’Dea, Iain McGann (c), Conor Barry, Ian Condell, Paul Derham. Replacements- Luke Thompson, Steve McGivern, Josh Pim, Craig Miller, Paddy McKenzie.
Scorers – Tries – Ed O’Keefe, David Poff, Josh Pim; Penalties – 2 Rory Stynes; Conversions- 2 Rory Stynes.