BUCCANEERS and Blackrock College served up a feast of scores and entertaining rugby in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B encounter at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday when the spoils were shared 36-36 after a hectic tussle played in perfect pitch and weather conditions. With the IRFU scheduling this fixture virtually in direct competition to Ireland’s opening RBS Six Nations game in Wales, the attendance was surely the smallest witnessed in Athlone for an AIL match, but those who opted to come along got terrific value for their money.

Buccs made four changes in personnel following last week’s defeat at Harlequins. South Sea Islanders duo Kolo Kiripati (injured) and Mata Fifita (ill) were enforced absentees. Eoghan Grace came into the backrow while Mark McCrea started at fullback, Garreth Halligan resumed at hooker and Conor FitzGibbon joined his cousin Billy Henshaw patrolling the wings. Blackrock captain Cian Culleton returned to active duty in the front row of a beefy and experienced pack that included Des Dillon, Owen Cullen and one-time Bucc David Gannon.

On a calm, dry afternoon in total contrast to the preceding week, Rock had the first scoring chance but Rob Keogh missed a kickable penalty after only 2 minutes. Buccs grabbed their first opportunity just three minutes later when, after James Tormey won good lineout ball, Grace peeled away on the blindside for a smartly-taken try on the left and Jack Carty added a fine touchline conversion. Keogh found the range with a 9th minute penalty while Carty was off-target just two minutes later after Alex Hayman had been stopped just short and the visitors’ Tom Kevany was yellow-carded. Keogh missed a second penalty after 15 minutes but two minutes later was converting David Godfrey’s try when Rock capitalised as Mark Dolan was receiving treatment for an ankle injury that forced his early withdrawal. Barry Digby replaced the scrumhalf and he battled on bravely despite shipping an injury that limited his mobility before halftime.

But Buccs were back in front on 25 minutes, Hayman surging through and Carty, who initiated the move, adding the conversion. Two minutes later, the Pirates extended their lead when McCrea made a telling break and showed good composure in finding Conor Finn who somehow held on to possession before the ball was moved to the right where Grace’s deft offload sent Luke Satchwell scurrying over the visitors’ line for an excellent 27th minute try. Carty’s conversion put Buccs 21-10 ahead in a lively joust. The metropolitans had the next scoring sniff but Keaveny ignored an overlap and then knocked on when the home defence closed him down before Buccs stretched their advantage in the final move of a swift-flowing opening half. ‘AUDI ATHLONE Man of the Match’ Hayman made the initial thrust and Finn carved a gap through the centre as he angled for a bonus point try on the left which, although not converted, gave the Athlone outfit a healthy 26-10 halftime lead.

Blackrock were more purposeful on the resumption and Keaveny went flying down the left flank to set up Jan-Simon Byrne’s 46th minute try which Keogh converted. As the action moved from end to end, Martin Staunton got a good blockdown on an attempted Rock clearance and this yielded a five-metre scrum after which Carty’s snipe was stopped tantalisingly close to the visitors’ line. Shortly afterwards, Buccs introduced Peter Reilly and Diarmuid Higgins to the front-row and the latter made an immediate impact as he thundered forward before unleashing Hayman who powered in for a magnificent 58th minute try (his second of the match) which Carty converted to restore Buccs 16 points advantage.

But Rock’s response was immediate, substitute Emile van Wyck breaking the home cover for a try which Keogh converted to reduce the visitors’ arrears to 33-24. Blackrock’s more physical pack was now dominating and good interplay was rewarded with Job Langbroek’s 73rd minute touchdown with Keogh converting this bonus point try to leave just two points between the teams. Although the crowd was small, both sets of supporters made themselves heard as an enthralling contest ebbed and flowed.

The exertions were taking their toll on the lighter hosts but they responded with some decent pressure from which Carty kicked a wonderful 78th minute drop goal that looked as if it might seal the issue for Buccs. But Blackrock launched one final flurry and Jan-Simon Byrne snaffled a last ditch try on the right to tie the scores. Keogh was unable to convert and so the teams finished level 36-36 after a hectic contest.

Like Ireland, Buccaneers built up a promising first half lead but they just could not hold on to it and, consequently, were very disappointed not to have returned to winning ways. Yet, there was much to enthuse about this after the blip in Belfast, although too many missed first time tackles proved costly and a lack of sheer bulk in the pack remains a concern. Buccs will take solace from scoring 36 points including 5 tries that earned the midlanders 3 points that keeps them in fourth place in a congested bunch trailing leaders Ballynahinch while Blackrock maintained their improved form and have now lost just once in their last six matches.    


BUCCANEERS:- M.McCrea; B.Henshaw, C.Finn, A.Hayman, C.FitzGibbon; J.Carty, M.Dolan; M.Staunton, G.Halligan, J.Roets; J.Tormey, R.Byrne; L.Satchwell, E.Grace (captain) and D.Heffernan. Replacements:- B.Digby (for Dolan, inj. 19 mins), D.Higgins (for Staunton, 56 mins), P.Reilly (for Roets, 56 mins), P.Maxwell (for Halligan, 68 mins) and R.Taylor.

BLACKROCK COLLEGE:- P.Broughan; J.S.Byrne, R.Keogh, M.McKeever, T.Kevany; D.Godfrey, D.Rowan; C.Culleton (captain), R.Fisher, C.Phillips; D.Dillon, O.Cullen; D.Gannon, P.McCague and J.Langbroek. Replacements:- E.van Wyck (for McKeever, h/t), D.Lewis (for Culleton, h/t), B.Glynn (for Broughan, inj. 43 mins), C.Carroll (for Lewis, inj. 59 mins) and S.Cooke.

REFEREE:- Sean Gallagher (IRFU). 



BUCCANEERS U-21s, whose scheduled game against UCC fell victim to the bad weather last weekend, take a trip down the M4 to square up to Connacht rivals Galwegians in what should be a well-contested South-West Conference Section A fixture at Crowley Park, Glenina, on Saturday. Kick off 2.30 p.m. Both clubs have enjoyed mixed fortunes to date and both need to win to strengthen their play-off hopes so a battle royale is in prospect. The Pirates have displayed solid endeavour and, if disciplined, they can eke a crucial victory but it will be a tough test for both sides.

BUCCANEERS DEVELOPMENT SQUAD’S Junior League fixture that also doubled as a Junior Plate tie did not materialise last Sunday as Corrib were unable to field. Consequently, Buccs advance to the next round of the Junior Plate with a short hop to neighbours Ballinasloe on Sunday. At time of writing, this game is scheduled to kick off at 2.30 p.m. but surely common sense will prevail and the starting time will be changed so that supporters and players alike can watch Ireland’s RBS Six Nations clash with England on Sunday which has a 3 p.m. kick off.

Of course, the BIG game in the midlands next weekend is the ELECTRIC IRELAND meeting of Ireland and champions England in the U-20 Six Nations Championship under the Dubarry Park, Athlone, floodlights on Friday. Kick off 7.30 p.m. Cash will be taken at the turnstiles but tickets can be purchased in advance at The Bounty. (See separate article).


The numbers drawn in this week’s BUCCANEERS LOTTO for a JACKPOT of €2,800 were 3, 8, 15 &29.


Connacht Emerging Talent squad named for game against Leinster North Midlands