NUIG upset the CUSAI rugby applecart on Wednesday travelling south to Cork with the bare minimum 15 and leaving the hosts trailing by two on full-time.
UCC, last winter’s CUSAI Intervarsities tournament champions, found themselves 14points adrift of the Galway tourists 25minutes into the first half after outhalf Niamh Ni Dhroma twice carved her way through the opposition backline. On the first occasion only a desperate last-ditch line of defence pulled her up short, but not short enough for ever-present number eight Heather Cary to arrive on her left shoulder and go in under the bar. Ni Dhroma added the extras.
Ni Dhroma featured again eight minutes later with a carbon-copy blitz through a fractured UCC defence and this time posted another seven to her conversion moments earlier to put NUIG 14 points ahead with as many minutes left on the first half clock.
Shocked into action, UCC countered with several sustained passages deep within NUIG territory but for several minutes found few weaknesses in a stoic defensive line. Four minutes short of the break UCC broke the levee and five points turned into seven with a graceful kick from wide out right.
Benefitting from a healthy (and ever-burgeoning) bench UCC rang the changes 10 minutes into the second spell, but struggled to gain any real ascendancy into the wind. Enter Six Nations and sevens superstar Ali Miller in the midfield who put on the afterburners with her first touch and scarpered clear down the right-hand touch to go in for UCC’s second try 22minutes into the second spell. She chased that up with an instant replay minutes later, same touchline, same speed, same result. While neither conversion found its mark, UCC surged into the lead with a quarter-hour left on the clock three points clear 17-14.
Plugging the breeze well both Rhona Julian and Ni Dhroma carved off serious yards with the boot and an enterprising one-off runner movement saw skipper Lou Fitzgerald stand stall and secure amid a three-strong tackle. Testament to her cheek and tenacity she broke free of six hands and won the 15m footrace to the chalk 12m left of the lefthand upright to reclaim the lead surrendered 10minutes prior. With seven minutes remaining NUIG were two clear 19points up to the UCC’s 17.
The formidable Miller took charge and sought a three-peat but livewire blindside Edel McMahon cleaned her up out wide on NUIG’s left touch and sent her sprawling back into the approaching cover defenders, and ranging workhorse lock-forward Rita Breen ran the former track star down wide out right 15m from the NUIG line at the death. Her desperate clenched fist found Miller’s jersey and brought the Portlaoise local grinding to a halt. From the ensuing penalty, skipper Fitzgerald grabbed the pill and pounded it into touch to close out the historic win in mild, breezy conditions.
The victory was a fitting tribute to all 15 who travelled, many of whom were nursing bumps and bruises from another two-point win at the weekend over Tuam, and labouring under assessment-heavy pre-Christmas schedules.
From one to 15, all involved contributed as polished an offensive performance as it was doggedly determined in defence. And more apparent than the talent bubbling through Wednesday’s complement was the collective refusal to bow heads and settle for second. Coach Simon Lawless, fingernails down to the second knuckle by full-time, commended the performance as one to rival the best he’d seen in his three years at the helm.
By Luke O’Donnell.