An in form Portarlington team brought their league momentum into cup rugby last weekend as they took on the Naas in the first round of the Town’s Cup at Lea Road.
However, heavy conditions and a dogged Naas defence prevented the home side from unleashing their usual attacking weapons and the visitors took the victory after extra time.
Torrential showers of sleet and rain in the hours before kick off ensured that underfoot conditions along with arctic winds would make it difficult for Portarlington to play the expansive game that has seen them shoot up the Leinster League Division 1B table in recent weeks.
In a first half that was broken up by handling errors from both sides, it was the home side who dominated both possession and territory but they will feel frustrated that each phase of attacking play ultimately ended without reward. Their frustration then turned to despair as Naas centre Eoghan Conron ran 50 metres unchallenged to score in the corner with the last play of the half to leave the score line 0-5 at the break.
Portarlington came out fired up in the second half and when some good possession was recycled at pace the home side’s backs finally managed to reward their forwards relentless work as winger Ronan Mannion forced himself over the line to the delight of the huge home crowd and the scores were levelled at 5-5.
As the wind dropped and conditions improved, both teams started to play with more continuity and confidence and it was again the home side who dominated as their set piece play improved to match their hard working efforts to break through a resistant gain line. However a lack of penetration along with some questionable refereeing decisions meant that further periods of red zone possession amounted to nothing.
There was one moment of vision and brilliance from Portarlington fly half Kieran Hyland as he made a break into Naas territory only to be met by a retreating defence. Instead of taking the contact Hyland spotted support out wide and seemed to open up the defence with an excellent cross field kick but the muddy conditions meant that the chasers were unable to turn the opportunity into a score.
Captain Ross Doyle met the defence face on with some strong ball carrying as did the second row combination of Stephen Oakley and Alex Mihajlovic and impact substitutes Mark Petriw, Willie O’Connor and Andy Wilkinson. Portarlington continuously crashed away at the Naas defence but couldn’t force their way over the line but the home crowd felt that as extra time began their boys would prevail.
Extra time followed the same pattern with the home side failing to turn possession into points and when Naas wing Rob O’Connor executed a clinical finish in the corner it seemed like his score would prove crucial.
On a day when chances were at a premium, it was possibly the AIL experience that proved the difference as Naas managed to convert their only two chances in overtime with substitute Ryan Casey slotting over a penalty from forty metres out. The gap was now eight points and despite further effort from James Hyland and persistent scrum half Paul Mannion, Naas hung on to a hard earned victory and will advance to round two.
The consolation for Portarlington will be a place in the Towns Plate and more importantly, their remaining two league games as they push for the league promotion play off place.