Tullamore twist knife with Newbridge win
Tullamore celebrated reaching the midpoint of Division 1A of the Leinster League by opening up a 10-point lead at the top of the table following their 18-11 victory at second-placed Newbridge on Saturday evening.
The league is now very much the Co Offaly club's to lose and even at this early stage of the season their management can start preparing for their first ever assault on the AIL round robin.
They have reached this stage of the campaign by overpowering opponents with a relentless intensity up front that no other team can live with.
Mind you, on Saturday night at a well-attended Rosetown the hosts competed well at the breakdown and prevented the visitors getting their runners around the corners. But they were no match for Tullamore at scrum-time, while the damp conditions resulted in many more mistakes than these two fine sides would normally make over 80 minutes.
The other key area was the league leaders' driving maul, a weapon they used to good effect throughout the game and which delivered a pair of tries for hooker Cathal Feighery.
His first touchdown late in the opening half was the game's crucial score, with strong defending by both sides prior to that giving the impression that crossing the try line was going to be difficult.
The 5-0 half-time lead was doubled midway through the third quarter, when the powerful Tullamore scrum drove their opponents back over their own line for No 8 Adrian Hanley to ground the ball.
But, to their credit, Newbridge wouldn't lie down and after an exchange of penalties No 8 Eoin Walsh availed of a quickly tapped penalty to scorch home from near halfway, reducing the deficit to five points again with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Game on, thought the crowd! No such thing, as the Tullamore pack moved upfield and gathered from a lineout to set up the powerful driving maul that sucked the life out of their hosts with Feighery delivering the killer blow.
There is little doubt that Tullamore are the best junior rugby team in the country at present. But it will take careful and astute management to deliver this excellent team in prime shape for their AIL round robin crusade in March and April.
An injury here or burnout there could have a devastating effect, and how this superb squad is handled could be the key to Tullamore reaching their Holy Grail.
Elsewhere, Dundalk recorded a dramatic last-minute victory over Wanderers in Merrion Road, with scrum-half Tommy Campbell's long-range penalty bouncing off the crossbar before going over for a 26-25 victory.
It was not to be for the Dublin 4 side, who led 22-6 at half-time with tries from No 8 Paddy Mallon, wing forward Harley Murray and scrum-half Tommy Ellard. But the Co Louth side came storming back after the break with centre Afa Fa'atau scoring a pair of tries that helped set up the last-kick-of-the-game dramatics.
Enniscorthy scored 13 tries in beating relegation-doomed Garda 87-11 at home in Ross Road, while Coolmine proved too strong in Ashbrook for visitors Cill Dara as they prevailed 23-7 in a scrappy affair.
There was an equally big top-of-the-table clash in Division 1B, where unbeaten league leaders Tullow were held to a 20-20 draw at home in Black Gates by second-placed Monkstown.
Despite losing their 100pc record, the result leaves the pacesetters seven points clear at the top.
Their once illustrious near neighbours Co Carlow seem headed for the drop, however, as they are a massive 11 points adrift at the bottom following their 23-18 loss away to Ashbourne.
Kilkenny maintained their four-point lead in Division 2A with a 13-8 victory in New Ross, while second-placed Malahide beat third-placed Gorey 18-11 at home in Estuary Road.
There are a handful of catch-up games on Sunday but the majority of teams have the weekend off as they prepare for the final two rounds of games prior to Christmas.