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Highfield 38 – Naas 20   19/10/2019

Naas travelled down to Cork to face Highfield in their latest game of the current Energia All-Ireland League last Saturday afternoon. This was always going to be a stern test for Naas as their rivals are the early pacesetters of the league, and have impressed many with their performances to date. In the end it turned out be a heavy defeat for Naas. However it must be said that in most facets of play there was very little between the sides, the big difference being that Highfield had a weapon – their driving maul – which they used effectively and ruthlessly, and which Naas could not contain.

Eager to put the earlier World Cup disappointment behind them a large crowd turned up for this fixture which was played on a glorious Autumn afternoon, and it was Naas who registered the first score. It came on eight minutes and followed good carries by Conor Doyle and Peter King, which led to Highfield being penalised for hands in the ruck. From in front of the posts Bryan Croke tapped over the penalty to put Naas three points in front.

Highfield quickly responded. They won a penalty on half-way and dispatched this into touch. From the line-out they went through a series of phases largely consisting of pick and goes from the base of rucks. Naas defended these well but finally they could not stop James Cronin from forcing his way over for a try which Shane O’Riordan converted. They had a chance to extend this lead on 21 minutes when they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts. They surprised a few away supporters by turning down the shot at goal and kicking into the corner. This suprise was compounded when they failed to gather the line-out and Gary Kavanagh was able to clear the ball for Naas. However subsequent events showed why Highfield elected for this option and they were not to be so tardy again.

Naas struck with a great try on 34 minutes. From a scrum on half-way they attacked on the blind side and Bryan Croke sliced through the Highfield defence and took play up to five metres from the try line. Naas quickly recycled the ball and although their next couple of attempts to score were stopped, finally David Benn was able to pick from the base of a ruck and drive over for the try. Croke converted and Naas led 10-7.

Straight from the kick-off Highfield won a penalty for a side entry at a ruck. This penalty was again dispatched into the corner, and this time the line-out was safely secured.  This allowed them to set  up a driving maul and they drove Naas right back before Dan Healy crashed over for the try. O’Riordan converted to put Highfield 14-10 up and this proved to be the interval score.

Within two minutes of the restart Naas had fallen 11 points behind. An attemped clearance went out on the full giving Highfield a line-out 35 metres out. From this they again set up the driving maul and were able march all the way up the pitch before Cronin was hand to score his second try with O’Riordan adding the conversion. Almost immediately things got worse for Naas. Their restart did not the permitted ten metres and from the subsequent scrum Highfield kicked deep forcing Naas right back on their own line. Gary Kavanagh attempted to kick clear but Luke Kingston was able to block down his attempt and won the race to touch down for another try. Although O’Riordan missed the conversion Highfield now led 26-10.

To their credit Naas responded and really took the game to their hosts and were rewarded after 50 minutes. A great carry by Adam Coyle put Naas on the front foot, the ball was quickly recycled and moved smartly out the back line where Matt Stapleton was on hand to squeeze in at the corner to score. From right out on the touchline Bryan Croke kicked a great conversion and when the same player was successful with a penalty attempt on 59 minutes the gap was back to six points and the contest was back on.

Unfortunately that was as good as it got for Naas, with the home side finishing strongly, adding another two tries which both came again from driving mauls. On 69 minutes lock forward Fintan O’Sullivan was on hand to finish off the move, while in the very final minute James Cronin capped off a fine performance to score his third try of the afternoon. Capped three times for Ireland and with no less than 114 appearances for Munster, Cronin certainly looked a class act and was a big asset to Highfield here. With O'Riordan adding another conversion it left the final score at 36-20 in favour of the Corkmen.

Although this was a very third successive defeat for Naas there was plenty of positives to be taken from this performance. Granted they were well beaten in the end but they competed in most areas well with the league leaders, and there was signs that this rebulding process for them is beginning to take shape. Next up for Naas is a home fixture against Malone on Saturday week, November 2nd. Kick-off is at 2.30pm and all support will be greatly appreciated.

Highfield: Sam Burns, Colin O’Neill, Luke Kingston, Mark Dorgan, Paul Stack, Shane O’Riordan, Chris Bannon, James Cronin, Dan Healy, Timmy Ryan, Eoin Keating, Fintan O’Sullivan, Dave O’Connell, Cathal Gallagher, Miah Cronin. Replacements:Michael Shinkin, Ciaran McHugh, Eddie Earle, Brian O’Hea, Gavin O’Leary.

Naas: Bryan Croke, Matt Stapleton, Ben Swindlehurst, James Hawkey, Eoin Walsh, Mark Sutton, Gary Kavanagh, Conor Doyle, Graham Reynolds, Peter King, Paul Monahan, David Benn, Johnny Holmes, Ruadhan McDonnell, Ryan Casey.Replacements: Adam Coyle, Conor McCormack, Tom Brady, Craig Adams, Rob Campbell.

Other Naas RFC Results this weekend:

J1: Naas 11. Old Wesley 39.

J2: Naas 22. Greystones 32.

Under-20s: Naas 52. Malahide 26.

Under-18s: Naas 34. Portarlington 8.

Under-17s: Naas 37. Seapoint 7.

Under-16s: Naas 29. Dundalk 12.

Under-13s: Naas 52. Roscrea 5.

Womens: Naas 1st 38. Clontarf 12.


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