Castle' to be burnt by Wood
Clongowes Wood v Castleknock College,
Donnybrook 3.0, Tuesday, February 21st
Three in-a-row. That is what Clongowes Wood are pursuing. And the three in their front row are the starting point from which everything else flows.
The mere sight of last year's Ireland Schools' Byrne twins, prop Edward and hooker Brian, and new-bull-on-the-block Daniel O'Byrne in the front row, throws down the gauntlet.
The back five is a hard-working unit with each of the five players knowing their roles and underpinned by the strength of Ireland Schools' number eight Peader Timmons on the ball.
There was clear evidence from the eight first-round matches that they will be odds-on favourites to retain their crown thanks to a strain of experience running through the impressive squad.
They even have the comfort of having Leinster U18 Schools hooker Dylan Donnellan on the bench. This is a measure of their strength in depth. The icing on their cake is the cool head of last year's proven goal-kicker Conor Mahony. He is looking even better this time around.
But it is the collective coherence that outshines the individual brilliance of this Clongowes outfit, and it has been the case for too many seasons to ignore the influence of coach Noel McNamara, one of the hottest prospects in a lean area for Irish rugby.
He has stamped Clongowes with a style of play that is the Leinster way, always moving the point of attack towards the weakest chain in the opposition defence.
There is a footballing intelligence to the way they expose weak spots.
For their part, Castleknock manhandled St Mary's 18-3 in the first round.
It was difficult to assess whether they never moved out of second gear or whether they had another if it was needed.
What was obvious was that their captain Tom Farrell is a centre of size and quality. He is the fulcrum of their attack, a brute in contact with an offloading game that can benefit those around him, especially Ireland U19 wing Michael Mellett.
Ireland Schools openside Jack O'Neill is what this country has been missing for so long, an out-and-out groundhog seven with natural scavenging instincts for the ball and the pace to be an extra three-quarter in the line.
There was also an appetite for defence that defined their win over St Mary's, albeit against a backline that did not have a dominant pack of forwards to stress a watertight defence.
Verdict: Clongowes Wood
CLONGOWES WOOD (Possible): M McFarland; C Mahony, C O'Hanrahan, S Fromm, N Rhatigan; M Nicholson, C McQuaid; E Byrne (capt), B Byrne, D O'Byrne, J Paul, R Daly, J Wallace, S Kealan, P Timmons.
CASTLEKNOCK (Possible): E Quinn; M Mellet, T Farrell (capt), D Sweeney, S McEntaggart; R Troy, D Henry; M Bennett, D Perry, O McEvitt, E Murphy, A Muazzam, S Carroll, J O'Neill, P Nalty.