IRELAND U-20 CHAMPIONS AGAIN
MICHAEL  SILKE
IRELAND 44  SCOTLAND 15

IRELAND demolished Scotland 44-15 in their ESB U-20 Six Nations Championship game at Dubarry Park and, in the process, clinched a second title in four years. After dealing with Wales the previous week, Ireland reached a higher plateau with this exciting taking apart of the Scots in front of another decent turnout in the midlands despite the inclement weather that became wetter as the game progressed.

Otherwise, conditions were ideal on a mild night and with James McKinney landing a home penalty inside five minutes the game seemed to be going as anticipated. However, Ireland may have been just a little bit too urgent in the opening stages and they conceded a brace of soft penalties within four minutes, both converted by Alex Blair, to give the visitors a 6-3 lead. This being Ireland’s thirteenth successive home game at the Athlone venue where they have lost just once, those with a superstitious nature may have begun to worry that Scotland could spoil the party.

But an exciting break and chip by the recalled Simon Zebo got Ireland back on track and Nevin Spence was soon splitting the visiting defence for a superbly taken 16th minute try at the posts which McKinney converted. Spence wreaked further havoc shortly afterwards but a poor final pass spoiled a try opportunity before outhalf McKinney tacked on a pair of penalties to give the homesters breathing space on the scoreboard, 16-6 ahead on 28 minutes. David O’Callaghan did the initial damage in setting up inside centre Nevin to again demonstrate his terrific finishing for a 32nd try again converted by McKinney. Blair kicked his third penalty for Scotland but Ireland  retorted with Spence and fellow centre Eoin Griffin dancing through the cover to set up Andrew Conway for a try at the posts just before the break, McKinney’s conversion giving the home nation a commanding 30-9 half-time advantage. 

Blair kept Scotland ticking on the scoreboard with a penalty just after the resumption but Ireland’s response was prompt and scintillating, a lightning counter-attack being finished off in style by fullback Conway and McKinney’s conversion stretching the lead to 37-12. A lengthy stoppage for an injury to Scotland’s Matthew Reid and a later unconnected yellow card to Patrick Butler, yielding Blair’s fifth successful penalty for the visitors, took some of the impetus out of Ireland’s charge to the title. Scotland’s Stuart McInally was sin-binned on 64 minutes and Ireland took advantage with Tiernan O’Halloran’s strength and footwork got him in for a fine 65th minute try which McKinney completing the scoring with the conversion from wide on the right. Ireland came tantalisingly close to adding to grabbing further tries but had to settle for a handful in an emphatic 44-15 victory.

Spence was a worthy ‘ESB Man of the Match’ winner and the constantly-improving Ireland had a superb back five and excellent back row trio where Dominic Ryan was outstanding. Lock O’Callaghan also was immense and McKinney’s kicking was near faultless in a superb all-round team contribution.

IRELAND:-  A.Conway; T.O’Halloran, E.Griffin, N.Spence, S.Zebo; J.McKinney, J.Cooney; J.O’Connell, N.Annett, S.Maguire; D.O’Callaghan, B.Marshall; R.Ruddock (captain), D.Ryan and P.Butler. Replacements:-  B.Cagney (for Maguire, 68 mins), B.Hayes (for Marshall, 68 mins), B.Macken (for O’Halloran, 76 mins), G.Quinn-McDonough (for McKinney, 83 mins), M.Heaney (for Cooney, 85 mins), R.Byrne (for Annett, 85 mins) and R.O’Sullivan (for Ryan, 85 mins).

SCOTLAND:-  T.Brown; O.Grove, J.Johnstone, A.Dunbar, D.Fife; A.Blair, A.Black; N.Little, A.Walker, C.Phillips; M.Reid, R.Harley; M.Maltman, D.Denton and S.McInally (captain).  Replacements:-  K.Hamilton (for Black, h/t),  D.Weir (for Dunbar, h/t), G.Hunter (for Phillips, 46 mins), C.Stidston-Nott (for Reid, 46 mins), M.Scott (for Johnstone, 64 mins) and L.Gibson (for Walker, 72 mins). 

REFEREE:-  M.Raynal. (France).

BUCCS HOME TO UCC

RUGBY  with  MICHAEL  SILKE

BUCCANEERS take on University College, Cork, in their penultimate AIB League Division 1B game at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday with a 2.30 p.m. kick off.

It seems all Buccs recent matches have been “must win” ones and indeed this encounter with UCC is little different although, on the back of two recent victories, the midlanders have climbed above both Dungannon and Ballynahinch in the league table. Consequently, Buccaneers are just above this season’s two automatic relegation positions and, accordingly, destiny is relatively in their own hands. Win both final games and the dreaded drop will be avoided but lose any ground and either northern club can jump above the Athlone outfit. So Buccaneers must build on their recent improved form and results and put the students to the sword.

Third placed College now have no chance of securing promotion and the students may now be focussing more on their academic affairs, but Buccs cannot count on that and simply must not underestimate the challenge that will be posed by the Cork side. One thing the hosts can be sure of is that UCC will run the socks off Buccs if they are not up and properly focussed for this contest. The firm sod at Dubarry Park will suit their well-drilled, running game so Buccs cannot allow the visitors get up a head of steam on Saturday. Brian Dennehy and captain Ivan Dineen are two strong-running centres, ex-Garryowen Andrew Burke is a fine prospect at standoff and Sean Scanlon loves joining the line from fullback. The latter was on the recent Ireland AIB Club International XV along with promising prop John Ryan. UCC’s pack also includes Ireland U-20 duo lock David O’Callaghan and prop Brian Cagney in a mobile and technically skilled squad.

But Buccaneers have a lot of promising talent in their panel too with Adam Kennedy, Paul Harte, Padraig Burke, Conor Higgins and Martin Staunton all players on the rise as is J.H. Potgeiter who has settled in much better now after injuries disrupted his season. Alex Hayman, Stephen Burke, Garreth Halligan and Colin Watters add steel to the mix while Brian Touhy and Kolo Kiripati bring guile and experience with the Samoan getting better and better now with more game time under his belt. If he can provide “go forward” play, he will lift teammates and supporters alike. James Tormey does a lot of unseen work in the second row while Conor Lavelle is growing in confidence with each outing in the backline. Skipper Colm Rigney should be fit to return after missing the win away to Ballynahinch where Buccs put in a tremendous opening half but then began to run out of steam. However, team mentors will surely have addressed this area in the three weeks since that vital victory. Rigney may be the only change in the pack but who to omit would be a huge ask for the team management after that win at Ballymacarn Park. Billy Henshaw and Sean Stapleton are likely to vie for the remaining spot in the backline with Gavin Kelly and Benny Gilligan others in contention for Buccs starting XV.

Buccs were far more clinical and focussed for an hour or so up north and, if they can repeat that endeavour and enterprise, then they can record a long overdue win over UCC. Even when struggling at Hinch, they kept putting the tackles in and were very disciplined until quite late in that encounter. They just need to raise the bar another notch or two on Saturday to secure victory and don’t leave a door open for Dungannon or Ballynahinch. It’s another Cup-tie type game for Buccs but, with home advantage, they really must grab it by the scruff of their collective necks and make it pay on the scoreboard.

Key matches
This weekend:-
Buccaneers v UCC
Ballymena v Dungannon
Old Belvedere v Ballynahinch
Final weekend:-
Buccaneers v Young Munster
Ballynahinch v Ballymena
Dungannon v Galwegians

THIRDS & U-21’s IN CUP ACTION

BUCCANEERS U-21’s have a very tricky Connacht Cup semi-final joust away to Corinthians at Clounacauneen on Sunday, kick off 1 p.m. while the Thirds too are away when they open their Ard-Na-Cregg Cup campaign away to Ballina at Heffernan Park also on Sunday with a scheduled 3 p.m. start.

Corinthians will be looking to their Ireland U-20 duo centre Eoin Griffin and prop Danny Buckley to give them impetus at home but Buccs squad, after a hesitant start to the season, finished the league quite strongly and will not be overawed. They too have some smashing players in their squad including Colin Draper, David Fagan, Ger Fallon and Conor Molloy in their backline although Senior pair Adam Kennedy and Billy Henshaw may not be available. In the pack, Paul Robinson, Shane O’Neill, Jack O’Carroll and David Henshaw can secure sufficient possession for their backs to profit from in what should be a lively, well-contested affair.

Buccs Thirds too got better as the season progressed when they were able to select from a more settled panel. Mark Coleman, Richie Johnstone, Terry Hynes, John Shaughnessy and David Dunning could be the leaders here in what will surely be a doughty test in the north-west.  

CONGRATS IRELAND U-20’s

CONGRATULATIONS to Ireland U-20’s on capturing the ESB Six Nations Championship with impressive showings particularly in their three games staged at Dubarry Park. Good to see two Connacht players Eoin Griffin and Tiernan O’Halloran featuring with Buccaneers scrumhalf Adam Kennedy also involved in the build-up to last Friday’s clincher against Scotland. Well done to all players, coaches, management and back-up personnel. Thanks too, of course, to all the volunteers at Dubarry Park on these exciting match nights which showed the club at its best for the large crowds and the much bigger audiences on RTE2 TV. A special word of thanks to ESB, sponsors of these home fixtures, and here’s looking forward to Ireland continuing to use Athlone as their base for these matches. The record on and off the pitch surely speaks volumes!

EASTER DISCO

An alcohol free Youth Disco takes place in The Bounty over the Easter school holidays. Thursday, April 1st is the selected date but its no joke! These supervised Discos have proven hugely successful, especially with teens in the 15/16 age group, with top DJ Paul Harte laying down the sounds from 9 p.m. till midnight that these kids love. The crucial support of Athlone Gardai and the Athlone Drugs Awareness Group is gratefully acknowleged by both the club and parents. Tickets are now on sale at Musicworld.

CAR

Kevin Daly, who won the recent Car Draw, will be presented with his gleaming brand new RENAULT MEGANE COUPE prior to Saturday’s Buccaneers v U.C.C. match.

TAG RUGBY

BUCCANEERS RFC is one of the new venues for this season’s BUD LIGHT TAG, the IRFU’s Tag Rugby programme. Entries can currently be logged on-line at [email protected]
Teams should enjoy about nine or ten weeks of matches at each venue with teams comprising both males and females. Squads consist of ten to twelve players and three females must be on the pitch at all times during games. No rugby experience is necessary for this fun type, non contact sport. Cost works out at approximately €5 per squad member per week. More details available next week.

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