FOURTH WIN ON THE TROT PRESERVES BUCCS DIVISION ONE STATUS

RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

BUCCANEERS  18
(Paul Harte try, Brian Touhy try, Adam Kennedy 2 pens & con)

YOUNG MUNSTER 8
(Aaron Carroll try, Alan Kingsley drop goal)

BUCCANEERS REMARKABLE RENAISSANCE culminated in a fourth successive victory that secured their Division 1B status when they were full value for their 18-8 win over promoted Young Munster in a keenly contested AIB League joust at well-attended Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. This was another stirring display by the rejuvenated Buccs as they turned the tide in their battle to successfully stave off relegation and the hordes of Pirates’ supporters celebrated as if they had won the league title once this result and those elsewhere confirmed that the midlanders would again be a Division One club next season.

That looked an unlikely prospect at the Christmas sojourn and even less so following three defeats in January, the latter one a bitter last kick drop goal defeat away to Galwegians when Buccs had actually performed commendably with much spirit and commitment. That loss anchored Buccaneers at the foot of the league table but since David Henshaw and Charlie Couper took over the reins, the players responded splendidly, helped in no little measure of course by ekeing out four crucial wins on the trot.

On a glorious sunny afternoon, playing and spectating conditions were near ideal at Dubarry Park apart from a swirling breeze that made life tricky for placekicks and lineouts. An enthusiastic crowd provided a worthy backdrop for this key fixture and, while most observers felt Young Munster had little chance of overtaking Old Belvedere (who were away to UCC) at the top of the league table, the visitors played with the pride and passion that one would expect from the ‘Cookies’. Indeed, in the opening half, the exchanges were contested in feverish fashion on a firm sod with Buccs smartly out of the starting blocks in this Kilmartins N6 sponsored game.

Both teams fielded more or less on anticipated lines with Young Munster’s XV being close to their squad who prevailed over Buccs on the opening day of the season. The hosts had two changes in personnel from their last outing, Brian Touhy being available to partner Paul Harte in the centre, and John O’Brien came in for the injured J.H.Potgeiter at fullback. Skipper Colm Rigney was selected in a more familiar blindside flanker role with Colin Watters decidedly unfortunate in being the player omitted.

Buccaneers opening score took just five minutes to arrive but, prior to that, they already had threatened the visitors’ try line on three occasions. Garrett Halligan thundered down the right flank in the opening minute but Martin Staunton lacked quick support when possession was transferred to the prop. One minute later Buccs other prop Conor Higgins got into a promising position but his pass couldn’t find a teammate while Alan Kingsley had to scurry to deny Alex Hayman winning a chase for possession. However, Young Munster made little ground when clearing this particular danger and Rigney claimed good lineout possession on the left and Harte showed tremendous balance and desire to waltz in for a well-taken try. Adam Kennedy’s conversion never curled in the difficult breeze but Buccs had some reward for their early pressure.

Three minutes later, the Limerick side had a chance to open their account when Buccs were penalised for coming in from the side but Kingsley’s ambitious placekick fell short. On ten minutes, Young Munster showed a glimpse of their attacking potential when, despite a dodgy looking lineout throw, they then moved the ball right to left but O’Brien made an excellent covering tackle close to his right corner flag. James Tormey, Hayman and Sean Stapleton linked to make good ground into the visitors’ 22 where the latter was penalised for not releasing the ball and the prominent Hayman made another telling break down the right on 19 minutes but Buccs just could not add to their tally.

Young Munster threatened in a 25th minute right to left move that had reflections of their earlier raid when the final pass on this occasion too had more than a suspicion of being forward but fullback O’Brien put in a superb tackle to dump Danny Grace into touch almost within touching distance of the home try-line. However, this only delayed Munsters’ opening score for the home lineout went awry and the visitors promptly capitalised getting the ball crossfield smartly to Aaron Carroll for a try wide on the right. The usually so reliable Kingsley’s conversion attempt was well off the target so the scores were tied 5-5.

Buccs upped the ante after this and piled forward in search of a score before halftime. They applied steady pressure and caused the visitors’ some anxious moments especially when Mike Prendergast’s attempted clearance was blocked down. But they spurned a gilt-edged try opportunity when Rigney cut back in on 35 minutes instead of linking with the overlapping Stephen Burke. But this spell yielded a penalty which Kennedy steered over for a 8-5 lead. Just before the break, the impetuous Stapleton retaliated after an apparent stamp by James O’Neill but Young Munster made poor use of the penalty and Buccs had their noses in front at halftime although their lead should have been greater as they had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and territory, and they had also had the greater benefit of the breeze during a helter skelter opening half.

Seven minutes into the second half, Young Munster drew level again when Kingsley finished off some decent play with a sweet drop goal. The exchanges remained relentless with Rigney flagged by a touch-judge and then Shane Hassett also fortunate to escape harsher censure just before the hour mark in a sometimes torrid contest — although the Fire Services attending a hedge fire nearby were not required to cool down the on-field action! The home pack generally held the upper hand and, following a 61st minute lineout, Buccs mauled impressively towards the visitors’ try-line where Kennedy was stopped within touching distance. However, the homesters kept the Cookies penned back and Padraig Burke put in a terrific block on Kingsley to set up a chance for Kolo Kiripati who was stopped at the uprights where Young Munster infringed and Kennedy duly slotted over the resultant 64th minute penalty to edge Buccaneers ahead for the third time 11-8 in a fascinating duel.

Young Munster steadily unloaded their bench during the second half while Buccs introduced Watters for Stephen Burke who had been carrying an injury. The wily army man then got away with a cunning block on 71 minutes while Hayman kicked direct into touch as Buccs suffered a few anxious minutes before they regained their composure to score a cracking try after 77 minutes. Kennedy got quick ball to Conor Lavelle near halfway and the wing scooted off down the stand side where he cleverly committed the Cookies defence before a deft offload to the supporting Touhy who showed his experience and composure enroute to touching down behind the posts for a superbly-executed try which Kennedy comfortably converted to ease frayed nerves.

Buccs now did what they had been unable to do earlier in the season, wind down the clock and close out the game as they comfortably retained possession and controlled matters. The game threatened to boil over in added time and, after some handbags were exchanged, referee David Wilkinson prudently blew the fulltime whistle before matters got a chance to erupt. Buccaneers were worthy 18-8 victors and had done their part of the equation before the short but tense wait pending results from Ballynahinch and Dungannon. These worked out just right and indeed Buccs finished in fifth place while Hinch, as expected, and Ballymena, surprisingly due to their recent freefall, were relegated. With that the celebrations were promptly into full swing at The Bounty. 

Padraig Burke, who has really blossomed this season, put in another splendid shift and the young lock was a worthy winner of the ‘Athlone Springs Hotel Man of the Match’ award. Overall, the pack worked their collective socks off and dominated the much-vaunted visitors’ unit whose tardiness at lineout time was treated with great patience by the referee. Rigney has his best showing of the season as did Tormey. Hayman was a constant thorn in Young Munster’s side, O’Brien was a rock at fullback, and Touhy orchestrated his young backline to splendid effect. All in all, it was a cohesive and sustained performance by the homesters that gained its due double reward as Buccs made their own ‘Great Escape’.  

BUCCANEERS:- J.O’Brien; C.Lavelle, P.Harte, B.Touhy, S.Stapleton; A.Hayman, A.Kennedy; M.Staunton, G.Halligan, C.Higgins; P.Burke, J.Tormey; C.Rigney (captain), S.Burke and K.Kiripati. Replacement used:- C.Watters (for S.Burke, inj. 51 mins). Blood substitution:- B.Henshaw (for Stapleton, 23/29 mins).

YOUNG MUNSTER:-  R.Moloney; A.Carroll, D.Corcoran, C.Casey, D.Grace; A.Kingsley, M.Prendergast; G.Faherty, G.Slattery (captain), D.Murphy; S.O’Neill, K.Hanley; S.Hassett, J.O’Neill and N.Melbourne. Replacements used:-  L.Og Murphy (for Melbourne, inj. 49 mins), J.Griffin (for Hanley, 54 mins), H.McGrath (for Murphy, 54 mins), C.Clohessy (for Grace, inj. 67 mins) and Murphy (for Flaherty, 73 mins). Blood substitution:- H.McGrath (for Murphy, 28/34 mins).

Referee:- David Wilkinson (Ulster).

BUCCANEERS  10  MONIVEA  19

BUCCANEERS came up short against a physically stronger Monivea side when going down 19-10 in the Connacht U-19 League final contested at an untypically sweltering hot Galway Sportsground on Sunday. The Monivea forwards generally bossed the Athlone outfit’s pack and they had the edge on the scoreboard throughout this mainly forwards battle played in front of a good attendance.

The referee rather harshly penalised Buccs, who were missing Daniel Qualter, in the very first scrum and Monivea duly opened the scoring with the resultant placekick. Although struggling to contain the Galway club’s pack, Buccs with Conor Greene playing out of position at scrumhalf in place of the injured William Walesch were neverthleless level after a low-scoring opening half, Jack Carty finding the range with a penalty to leave it 3-3 at half-time. Carty’s international colleague Callum Boland had sustained an early injury and the fullback had to make a premature departure from the action.

Monivea built up the decisive lead in the third quarter, helped by a tonic intercept try just after the restart. They soon added a penalty and then grabbed a second try to forge into a 16-3 lead. A very well-taken try by the otherwise quiet Carty threw Buccs a lifeline, his conversion reducing the margin to 16-10 but a late Monivea penalty sealed the issue on a 19-10 margin.

Conor Keogh and Liam Claffey were pick of the Buccaneers backs while Stephen Dowling, Enda O’Brien and Brendan Fagan did their utmost to quell Monivea’s fire in the pack where Conor Kindregan excelled.

BUCCANEERS:-  C.Boland; J.Maguire, E.Keena, L.Claffey, C.Keogh; J.Carty, C.Greene; S.Dowling, E.O’Brien, J.Crampton; E.Casey, N.Quigley; S.Feary (captain), C.Donnelly and B.Fagan. Replacements used:- C.FitzGibbon (for Boland, inj.), P.Hewitt (for Crampton) and C.Haughian (for Feary).

BUCCANEERS  22  MONIVEA  6

Separate report of this Connacht U-15 Cup final to follow

BUCCS AWAY TO GALWEGIANS IN SENIOR CUP

BUCCANEERS and Galwegians finally square up in the semi-final of the Connacht Senior Cup at Crowley Park, Glenina, on Saturday. At time of writing, kick off is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Sadly this competition does not hold the aura that it once did but, nevertheless, provincial bragging rights and possibly the magnificent trophy could be the reward for victory between  these two keen rivals. In the AIB League, Buccs won at home but lost most agonisingly to an added time drop goal with the final kick of a decent match. Buccs were decidedly unlucky that foggy afternoon but, after regaining the lead with a penalty just before the end of normal time, they failed to close out the game. Consequently, Buccs needed to win their final four AIB League fixtures to survive in Division 1B but this they did. With self-belief and confidence restored, the shackles of the fear of losing now overcome, and with improved organisation and fitness, Buccaneers will venture west with optimism.

Galwegians had a more topsy turvy season to finish just above Buccs in the AIB League. Although they had little apart from pride to play for last week at Dungannon, their honest endeavours nevertheless made the northerners work extremely hard to earn a late victory that also saved the Ulster side from relegation. Both sides are likely to field somewhat below full strength but each club will be keen to prevail so a competitive enough encounter is envisaged. Depending on which outfit fields closer to their normal lineout may swing the issue.

U-19 CUP FINAL REPLAY
Buccaneers and Galwegians are also in opposition on Sunday afternoon when their U-19 teams replay the final of the Connacht U-19 Cup at Corinthian Park, Galway, kick off 1.30 p.m. A last minute Conor Keogh try earned Buccs this replay on a 8-8 scoreline. This game gives them a quick opportunity to get over their League final setback but much work needs to be put in this week especially by their forwards before this showdown with Wegians. Buccs are likely to have Daniel Qualter back for this final although William Walesch’s injury may rule him out of this decider too. It looks a finely balanced affair that may depend on a slice of good fortune or simply the greater desire to win.

CONGRATULATIONS

Well done to Daniel Qualter who helped Ireland U-18 Schools complete their Five Nations tournament on a winning note by defeating Scotland. Aaron Conneely, son of Oyster Homes’ Eamon, was a teammate of Daniel’s.

YOUR GAME, YOUR SAY

The Irish Rugby Football Union is presently undertaking a survey on the sport and you can have your say too by going on-line to the IRFU’s website www.irishrugby.com where you can complete the survey by going on to “YOUR GAME, YOUR SAY”. The questions are, to me, a bit narrow but anyone interested in rugby union should participate in this survey.

A.G.M.

Friday, May 28th, has been pencilled in as the date for the Annual General Meeting of Buccaneers R.F.C. so get your thinking caps on regarding nominations and/or proposals. Relevant forms will be in the post to all fully paid up members very shortly.

HEINEKEN CUP DRAW

With Munster and champions Leinster both into the last four of the Heineken Cup, the prize in the Pirates Draw for a trip for two per Trevor Brennan Rugby Tours to this year’s final at the Stade de France in Paris on the weekend of May 22nd looks exceedingly attractive. Tickets are only €10 each and can be purchased from various Pirates members or at The Bounty.

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