Rice College did enough on Tuesday to retain the Supermac’s Connacht Schools Junior Cup, discipline the over-riding feature of Tuesday’s replay.

In near tropical conditions, Rice College Westport and Sligo Grammar’s youngsters battled temperatures just below 20degC, and each other for the duration. The March 14 first-up final nearly went Grammar’s way 10-3 before Rice flyer Diarmad McGreal skipped through in extra time to go within two, and allow skipper Tom McHale to add the extras and draw scores level.

The 6-3 scoreline in Westport’s favour second time around came down to kicks, although Grammar captain Matthew Cosgrove only missed the one.

Rice opened the game with the afterburners in hyperdrive, dangerous given temperatures were already near 20. Having hemmed Sligo in their lefthand corner, Rice won a penalty, opted for the tap ahead of the scrum, and lined up the usual suspects for a crack at the chalk. Unforgivably, the charging runner put the ball to ground at least two metres from the defence, and Sligo breathed again. 

Even more bizarrely, Rice won the ensuing tighthead, number eight Jack Cashman peeled off the back but on the ground forced a pass straight into the support-runner’s knees. Sligo made no mistake with the next one, and cleared 55m downfield.

Rice’s reluctance to play the patience and percentage game may well have sunk them if not for a close goal-line call which went against Sligo right on the Rice line. Rice found themselves in the same lefthand corner early as Sligo shoved flanker Conor Burke over the line. Rice earnt themselves a reprieve in the form of a five-metre scrum holding up two attempts at the line, Sligo failing to hammer home the advantage thereafter five out.

Attacking play was few and far between, Rice’s Eyna Varley responsible for two scything runs, and Sligo nine Ryan Feehily dangerous throughout the 60 minutes, be it kicking, distributing or stopping advancing Mayo men. Continuity was non-existent, McElwee preferring caution with bodies on the ground than waiting for the unseen ball to appear.

Backchat gifted Tom McHale 10m grace on one occasion, and he duly obliged by slotting the resultant goalkick. Rice too were not immune, suffering for voicing their own frustrations with 10minutes to go.

That little separated these two sides is a given. Ten-all in the first game and a three-point distinction in the second says much for each’s ability to snuff out opposition scoring chances. Tuesday’s fixture came down to discipline, and Westport’s relatively clean off-side and ruck record said much for their victory.

And while experience may not be a word overly common in schools junior rugby finals, four Westport players won their second medals this week. Captain McHale, James Dowd, Niall Feehan and Conor Burke.

While Rice College’s Varley, Sean Brogan, Dowd, Burke and McHale deserve special mentions for their efforts in broken play, Sligo’s scrumhalf Ryan Feehily was leagues ahead of anyone else on the paddock. Feehily should become a staple feature of Grammar’s senior team, if not the schools League and Cup finals. The shame for Feehily, and the Sligo supporters, was that Rice simply had more contenders nipping on his heels than did his own Grammar team.

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