Dublin University’s Trinity team surprised all the experts by pulling out a 31-22 upset of rivals University College Dublin Saturday in Donnybrook, Ireland.
USA player Scott LaValla captained Trinity from the blindside flanker position and was named Man of the Match in this, the annual Colours Match for both teams.
UCD entered the game undefeated in league play and league champions. However, led by LaValla in the American’s final game for his collegiate team, Trinity
The game started ominously for Trinity as they controlled the ball for the first three minutes but were quickly seven points down when a loose ball landed in UCD hands and resulted in a try under the posts.
Trinity came back and seemed to own the ball for long periods of the game as UCD just fanned out and soaked up the pressure with their well organized defence. Fullback James O’Donoghue kicked a difficult penalty to put his team back in the game, he followed this with another effort soon after. UCD extended their lead, however, stretching the Trinity defence and scoring in the corner.
Trinity came back for James O’Donoghue to kick another penalty in front of the posts after some hard yards by the forwards.
According to the report from Trinity Head Coach (and former USA U19 Head Coach) Tony Smeeth, “the Trinity forwards were magnificent throughout but really seemed to get a dominant hold on the game midway through the first half.”
After several phases flanker Dominic Gallagher made a great break into the UCD 22. UCD were called for a penalty, and LaValla showed confidence in his players by calling for the kick to touch and the lineout, rather than three points with the penalty.
It was a crucial decision, as the Trinity forwards won the lineout and loosehead prop Ian Hirst touched down for a huge try. James O’Donoghue converted from the corner and Trinity led 16-12.
UCD came back to kick a penalty on halftime and the teams changed ends one point apart.
In the second half both defences put their bodies on the line. Trinity came up with several turnovers on UCD ball with aggressive counter-rucking. Trinity controlled possession and position on the field for most of the half as they kept the ball and attacked intelligently. More sustained pressure on the UCD line resulted in second row Colin MacDonnell diving over from close in after several drives at the line were held up.
24-15 gave Trinity a bit of breathing space, but not for long as UCD did get a break when their outstanding captain Andrew Cummiskey ran in from half way totally against the run of play. This closed the score to 22-24 with eight minutes to go.
Off a lineout Trinity spun the ball and put wing Neil Hanratty into space. He was brought down five meters from the line. Trinity got quick ball and sub back Conor Colcough chipped through. He was held back by a UCD defender, and referee Simon McDowell consulted his touch judge and awarded a penalty try under the posts and a yellow card to the UCD scrumhalf.
That sealed it at 31-22.
“This was a great way to finish the season for this Trinity XV,” said Smeeth. “They have had some hard luck all year losing games by the narrowest of margins, but on Saturday they proved they can play with anybody when they execute their game plan for the 80 minutes.”
“UCD has had an amazing year, they are a very good team,” LaValla told RUGBYMag.com. “I think we surprised a lot of people, maybe even ourselves a little bit.”
LaValla was with Trinity on the losing end twice in the Colours match, and missed the game where they won, in 2008 when he was touring with the USA national team.
“It was incredible, the perfect end to Trinity rugby for me,” he added. “When you’re playing in high school football and you make the playoffs, the only time you know it’s your final game is if you make the final. For this game, I knew. I knew from the beginning of the year that this wold be my last game for Trinity. Win lose or draw we were saying to each other it’s going to be a good day.”
LaValla, who passed up a chance to walk on at Oregon football to attend college and play rugby in Ireland, now finishes up his classes at Trinity and gets ready for graduation. After that, it appears Ulster is interested in signing him – LaValla played for the Ulster Ravens several times these past two seasons – and he is reportedly fielding offers from France as well. One thing is for sure, his plan is to pursue rugby.
“[Ulster] has been very good to me,” said LaValla, who first started playing for the USA U19s while playing for the Budd Bay Barbarians in his native Olympia, Wash. “I can’t really get over how good. While you’re young – rugby is a great thing but you can only do it for a few short years, so It’d be silly not to see how far I can take this.”
“Scott has had a great four-year career here in Trinity,” added Smeeth. “For an American to be picked by his peers to be captain is a big deal I think. He was immense on Saturday and was voted man of the match by an independent judge for his efforts. He has developed his game here and physically he has put on 15KG in the time he has been with us. He has played for Ulster Ravens as well in the British and Irish Cup.”
Smeeth and LaValla both said that the big experiment of an accomplished American rugby player going to college overseas worked.
“It’s such a great experience to come here. The rugby is competitive, the conditioning as good as anything they will get,” said Smeeth, who added that every North American player except for one who has played at Trinity has gone on to represent the USA or Canada. “They are not winning games by 100 points every week, the fees are cheaper than going out of state in the US. If there is any other American college lads who want to come this way, Scott would the ideal role model.”