BANBRIDGE 43 BUCCANEERS 15

High-flying Buccaneers were shot down at Rifle Park on Saturday when revitalised Banbridge were in rampant mood as they outgunned Buccaneers 43-15 in their Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B game.

It was the Ulstermen who came flying out of the traps to gain ascendancy over The Pirates. Both teams were greatly reconfigured from their early December meeting, with the Shannonsiders fielding five changes and the Northern side a whopping eight. The absence of Buccaneers’ most experienced duo, Shane Layden (bereavement) and Martin Staunton (illness), proved huge losses on a day when their guile and leadership was lacking.

Shane Jennings filled the void in the centre with Michael Hanley coming in at fullback while Will Reilly replaced injured scrumhalf Frank Hopkins. Sam Illo and Matthew Burke were the starting props and teenager Oisin Dolan played at blindside flanker. Banbridge had an even 4/4 split of changes between backs and forwards with the return after injury of James Humphreys at flyhalf being key.

The Co. Down side had first benefit of the influential breeze blowing from end to end on a grey afternoon and they swiftly dictated the proceedings, scoring two converted tries inside the opening 8 minutes. Both stemmed from Buccs lineouts on halfway that went awry. David McCann won both lineouts and the hosts swiftly countered with Adam Doherty carving a gap in the visitors defence after just 3 minutes to score at the posts. Five minutes later some smashing off-loading saw Peter Cromie send his brother Josh over for the second touchdown. Humphreys converted both early for a 14-0 lead.

It looked like Buccaneers had steadied their ship when they regrouped effectively with Illo and then Steveni Lombard driving forward before Hanley’s skipped pass sent Jennings over for a 13th minute try which the fullback was unable to convert from wide on the left. But Banbridge responded with an 18th minute Michael Cromie try following a terrific maul, Humphreys adding the conversion.

Buccs retorted by going through numerous phases and countless hands that brought them close to the home line and this time Qualter and Hanley combined to send Saul O’Carroll over for an unconverted 24th minute try also wide on the left to reduce the arrears to 21-10. But the home side met the challenge head on, going through many phases too before Ulster’s McCann got over between the uprights to secure their bonus point try with less than half an hour played. Humphreys added the straight-forward conversion.

James Kelly replaced Burke at the interval and Buccs, although temporarily depleted, applied good pressure for a spell but Banbridge held them out before working their way into the Pirates danger zone where they mauled over for a 46th minute Peter Cromie try converted by Humphreys.

Young Fionn McDonnell replaced the injured Qualter at the hour mark and Buccaneers continued to battle but could not breach the home defence until Hanley’s angled kick was knocked into touch by Jamie Mullan and the alert O’Connor popped a swift throw-in to the on-rushing Jennings who sped in for 64th minute unconverted try wide on the right to narrow the arrears to 33-15.

Hopes of salvaging a bonus point or two were soon dashed, Humphreys landing an excellent 67th minute penalty and he then converted McCann’s second try four minutes from the end to seal their 43-15 victory.

BANBRIDGE:- A.Doherty; J.Buller, C.Field, J.Cromie, J.Mullan; J.Humphreys, N.Kilpatrick; C.Reid, P.Cromie (captain), M.Cromie; M.Lyttle, A.Thompson; D.McCann, D.Carson and G.Jones. Replacements:- J.Chambers (for M.Cromie, 33 mins), A.Kennedy (for Field, 44 mins), M.Cromie (for Chambers, 50 mins), M.Vorster (for Carson, 56 mins), R.Cartmill (for Kilpatrick, 71 mins), A.Weir (for Mullan, 71 mins) and T.Savage (for P.Cromie, 71 mins).

BUCCANEERS:- M.Hanley; J.O’Connor, S.Jennings, S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll; H.West, W.Reilly; M.Burke, S.Lombard, S.Illo; R.Byrne, D.Qualter; O.Dolan, C.McCann and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- J.Kelly (for Burke, h/t), F.McDonnell (for Qualter, inj. 56 mins), M.Burke (for Illo, 56 mins), C.Daly (for Dolan, 70 mins), T.Shine (for Hanley, 76 mins) and R.Murphy-Sweeney (for O’Carroll, 76 mins) and H.Balsiger.

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