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1st XV make it a perfect season with win at Tullamore RFC


On Saturday 15 April Instonians travelled to Tullamore for a top of the table clash aiming for a bonus point win to give them a bit of history with 18 bonus point wins and a maximum AIL points haul of 90 points. Standing in their way was a Tullamore side sitting in 2nd place and hoping to cause an upset which would guarantee them a home semi-final against Skerries the next week.

Tullamore President Ivor Scully kindly invited the large travelling Instonian support into the excellent pre match lunch and then it was down to business with dry overhead conditions and a moderate wind blowing down towards the clubhouse.

14:30 – Tullamore kicked off with the elements in their favour and Instonians immediately got into their stride with a series of controlled passages of play showing good continuity and composure as the ball was moved left and right across the pitch.

14:36 – Tullamore 3 – Instonians 0

Tullamore defended well and used the wind intelligently to gain territory. When they then moved the ball right Instonians infringed at the breakdown and Tullamore had a shot at goal just outside the Instonian 22 and just 10 metres to the right of the posts.

Their 13 bisected the posts and Tullamore had drawn first blood.

14:39 – Tullamore 3 – Instonians 7

Tullamore undid their good work by initially knocking on at the kickoff and then exacerbating the situation by going offside. Matthew Keane kicked to touch for a line out 10 metres out. This is where it became clear that the Instonian coaching team had been hard at work during the week as instead of going to the tried and trusted driving maul they instead worked a planned move off the top of the line out and Schalk Van Der Merwe crashed over near to the posts after receiving the final pass. Jonathan Milliken added the extras and the league leaders were up and running.

14:42 – Tullamore 3 – Instonians 14

From the kick off Instonians re-gathered possession and a very good box kick by 9 Rhys O’Donnell was made even better by a really good chase and subsequent jackal by Schalk Van Der Merwe. Matthew Keane kicked for touch from the resultant penalty for a line out 15 metres out on the right hand side off the pitch. Rhys O’Donnell’s trademark show and go saw him race towards the line before a lovely pass back inside to the supporting Robert Whitten saw him dive in under the posts giving Jonathan Milliken the easiest of conversions.

14:57 – Tullamore 3 – Instonians 21

Tullamore came straight back at Instonians and continued to use the wind for territory. When they got another kickable penalty they turned down the easy 3 points and instead kicked for the corner on the left hand side of the pitch. Instonians took the line out and a great kick out of defence by Paul Pritchard was followed up by Robert Whitten who took play up to the Tullamore 22.

Tullamore responded shortly afterwards with a 50-22 and moved the ball right off their line out but a long miss pass to the right winger went forward. This gave Instonians the 1st scrum on their own ball and what a great scrum it was as they marched Tullamore back. Matthew Keane found touch from the resulting penalty just outside the Tullamore 10 metre line.

Great continuity, patience and control saw Matthew Keane break free and then find Rhys O’Donnell in support and Rhys’s pass was deliberately knocked on giving Instonians a penalty which Matthew kicked for a line out 15 metres out. Again the coaching team must take great credit as another move off the top of the line out saw Schalk Van Der Merwe almost get over again but Paul Pritchard was alive to the situation and he got over the line near the posts with Jonathan Milliken converting.

15:02 – Tullamore 3 – Instonians 28

Both sides were looking to keep the ball alive and test the respective defenses which held firm until a great break by Robert Whitten and kick ahead took play right up the Tullamore line. Tullamore recovered to clear their lines but then another great Instonian scrum saw them get another scrum penalty for Matthew Keane to kick to the corner just outside the 22 metre line on Instonians left hand side of the pitch.

Instonians moved it off the top off the line and from the next ruck Rhys O’Donnell’s trademark show and go saw him race through to score and give Instonians their bonus point. Jonathan Milliken converted from just to the left of the posts.

15:12 – Tullamore 10 – Instonians 28

Tullamore came straight back at Instonians and it took a great tackle by Schalk Van Der Merwe to stop them scoring near their left touchline.

A feature of the 1st half had been the back chat to the referee and it proved decisive right on half time when Tullamore took advantage of the extra 10 metres and the fact that Instonians were not switched on when the Tullamore 13 brushed aside a couple of would be tackles to score under the posts. He then converted his own try.

HALF TIME – Tullamore 10 - Instonians 28

Instonians will have been very happy getting the bonus point before half time and with the wind in their favour 2nd half but a little concerned over their lack of discipline and falling off some tackles late in the half.

Tullamore will have been disappointed to have conceded 4 tries before half time but pleased to have scored 2 tries themselves particularly the one right on half time.

15:19 – Tullamore 10 – Instonians 35

The 1st score after the break was likely to be an important one and it was the visitors that got it. Instonians went straight on to the attack and after a penalty at the breakdown they kicked to the corner for line out 10 metres out on the left. This time they reverted to the tried and trusted and Neil Saulters got his 20th try of the AIL campaign at the tail of the impressive driving maul. Jonathan Milliken then knocked over a great touchline conversion.

15:23 – Tullamore 17 – Instonians 35

Tullamore’s response was 1st class and when they won a penalty at the breakdown their 13 (who was now playing at 9) ran in to score underneath the post with Instonians not 100% focused in defence. The conversion was good.

15:29 – Tullamore 22 – Instonians 35

This try seemed to galvanize Tullamore and they were starting to impose themselves a bit more at the breakdown with Instonians conceding penalties. From one such penalty Tullamore kicked to the corner inside the Instonian 22. A few pick and goes later and the home support were applauding the bonus point try and daring to dream of the win and the prize of the home semi-final the next week.

15:34 – Tullamore 22 – Instonians 42

That hope was extinguished within minutes when Instonians clicked into gear and a great passage of continuity between forwards and backs resulting in another deliberate knock on with Matthew Keane kicking the resulting penalty to the corner. The powerful driving maul was collapsed and the referee ran under the posts to award the penalty try.

15:40 – Tullamore 22 – Instonians 49

Tullamore went straight back on the attack and were awarded a scrum near to the Instonians 22. This looked a promising position for a platform to attack from but Instonians had other ideas and within an instant had taken the scrum against the head and then great awareness and execution saw Rhys O’Donnell rifle a raking kick downfield for a 50-22. From the resultant line out Conor Gallagher was now at hooker to dot down over the line from the impressive driving maul from 10 metres out. Jonathan Milliken added the extras with a great touchline conversion.

15:45 – Tullamore 22 – Instonians 56

Instonians went straight back on the attack and when Rhys O’Donnell took a quick tap penalty in the Tullamore 22 another deliberate knock on from Tullamore saw the culprit receive a yellow card. Instonians chose the scrum option and a lovely planned move off the base saw Matthew Kilpatrick taking the final pass to score mid-way between the touchline and the posts. Jonathan Milliken added the extras.

Rhys O’Donnell and Matthew Keane were both using the wind intelligently to gain significant territory and all of the squad had got pitch time by now. The most pleasing sight was Ali Burke who had suffered a collapsed lung when in hospital at Xmas putting quite a shift from no 8 and involved in everything.

15:53 – Tullamore 22 – Instonians 63

Another great Instonian scrum saw them take another against the head and win a scrum penalty. Matthew Keane found touch 10 metres outside the Tullamore 22. From the line out Instonians moved the ball infield and then Ali Burke broke and slick hands to Mark Mairs and then to Matthew Keane to score out wide on the right. Jonathan Milliken nailed the conversion.

15:57 – Tullamore 22 – Instonians 68

Instonians were not finished however and a good initial break from Ali Burke inside the Tullamore 10 metre line saw Rhys O’Donnell take the pass outside the 22 and make an excellent break beating 3 defenders before delivering a long pass to his support with Mark Mairs gathering the ball in his stride before delivering a deft inside pass to Schalk Van Der Merwe on his inside who got his 2nd score of the day.

16:00 – Tullamore 29 – Instonians 68

Then with the very last play of the match the Tullamore inside centre picked up a loose ball on the Instonian 10 metre line and sprinted in under the posts for a fine piece of opportunism. This typified the never say die attitude of Tullamore despite what the scoreboard read.

FULL TIME – Tullamore 29 - Instonians 68

Tullamore managed to score 5 tries against an Instonian side which no side has managed this season and they must take that positive message into their play off semi-final away to Skerries next week. They are both fine sides and the winner of that game will have a shot at joining Instonians in 2B next season. We wish both clubs good luck and would welcome the opportunity to renew acquaintances again next year.

Todays MOM had the usual contenders with super games from Robert Whitten, Andrew McGrath and Rhys O’Donnell to name but 3 but it goes to Schalk Van Der Merwe who formed part of the formidable scrum , was involved in the productive moves off the line out , made some huge tackles, showed really good hands and got about the park all day including being up in support to complete his brace of tries towards the very end of the game.

Instonians have achieved the perfect season and a bit of history with 18 wins and all with bonus points giving a maximum points haul of 90. Points for 792 and against 246 giving a points difference of 546 over 18 games. Simply remarkable. Also hooker Neil Saulters scored 20 tries in the 18 AIL matches, which was only 1 behind the Clontarf hooker in 1A.

Credit must go to Director of Rugby Clem Boyd and Chairman of the Rugby Committee Peter Bradley. The coaching team was first class with Paul Pritchard, Jamie Kirk, Louis Ludik and Richard McCarthy. The physio Chris Noble and Gavin Noble when required, the team managers Ken Keane and Chris Mussen and the enthusiasm of the President Owen Lambert.

A 1st XV needs the pressure of a strong 2nd XV and under the great coaching of Mark Elliot and Rory McCurry this year we certainly had one. In fact they also won their league!

The squad is full of players who have played in 1A and 1B and at the top of 2A so it was always going to be one of the strongest in the league but the way they have respected every team they faced, prepared properly and taken 1 game at a time was first class. Also over the season the team have developed different ways of playing and are not just dependent on their excellent set piece but have a backline that is so exciting to watch.

The squad is definitely ready for the tougher challenges that lie ahead in 2B and Enniscorthy are a prime example of that as they are a fine side which got promoted from 2C last season and despite a brave fight are returning there next season. For the moment though Instonians will enjoy the off season and then reassemble and go again in 2B next year.

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