By Michael Silke

BELFAST HARLEQUINS just held on to pip Buccaneers 19-18 in a well-contested Ulster Bank League Division 1B game at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. Conditions were raw and windy but dry and sunny for this encounter which was played, somewhat bizarrely and unnecessarily, under floodlights. However, the Pirates did not really light up their endeavours until reduced to 13 players in the final quarter when they tacked on 10 points in a rousing rally but Quins had earlier played to their strengths to build a match-winning advantage.

Buccs had not played for six weeks and it showed, particularly in the opening half when they made insufficient use of the elements as they suffered a costly third successive defeat. The Pirates had a number of personnel and positional changes from their loss to Terenure College. Conor Finn returned in the centre with Shane Layden switching to fullback instead of the injured Callum Boland. Danny Qualter returned at lock with Kolo Kiripati switching to blindside flanker in place of Mata Fifita. Quins, with a heftier pack featuring towering second row Neil McComb and prop Richard Lutton, were content to keep matters tight and let their forwards make the hard yards.

It took the hosts some time to apply pressure but the northerners got an early slice of good fortune. As Buccs moved the ball laterally from right to left, one obvious pass too many was made and Michael Heaney read the telegraphed intentions to intercept on his own 10-metre line. The Ulster regular grabbed the gilt-edged opportunity and, with Buccaneers cover spread thinly, he had the pace and composure to get to the line despite Layden’s chase. Liam Cambridge was unable to convert from wide on the right but the outhalf soon high-tackled his opposite number Ben Carty as he chased his own chip ahead. However, the teenage home fly-half was off-target from a kickable position.

Nevertheless, Buccs were quickly on level terms when they regained possession from the restart and moved the ball smartly to the right where left wing Steve Macauley popped up to provide an overlap and dart in for a well-taken 20th minute try in the corner which Carty could not convert. Harlequins responded promptly to this score by introducing Rory Scholes at full-back with Heaney moving to his more familiar role at scrumhalf in place of Josh Fullerton. Cambridge then missed a penalty on 29 minutes.

A sweeping Buccs move with Macauley again prominent looked like reaping a second home try but Quins slowed the momentum close to their line and the midlanders were hastily pinged for not releasing. When Buccs were again penalised inside their own half on 36 minutes, Quins kicked to touch on the right. Winning good lineout possession, they went through the phases to score a crucial try just before the break. Oli Loughead got the touchdown and Cambridge added the conversion for a 12-5 lead and, although Buccs again attacked strongly before the interval, the northerners retained their advantage at half-time.

Buccs restarted in spirited and purposeful manner and good work at a scrum yielded a 42nd minute penalty which Carty drilled over. The Pirates were now doing much better in the set-pieces and Lutton was yellow carded at a 49th minute scrum. Referee Gary Conway had a propensity to whistle rather swiftly for holding but Cambridge missed a straight-forward placekick in such a situation three minutes later. Buccs did not benefit from their temporary numerical superiority but made promising inroads after 64 minutes when a knock-on spoiled decent territory. Daniel Dass played the whistle and made good yardage to discomfort the hosts, for whom both Qualter and Diarmuid Higgins were yellow carded in quick succession for indiscretions as the Athlone side was stretched.

The visitors promptly inflicted further punishment on the Pirates when, after punting the penalty to the left, their pack rumbled over with the inspiring McComb applying the finishing touch for a try which Heaney did well to convert. This put Quins in a strong position 19-8 ahead after 66 minutes and, with a two man advantage, home fears were that visitors would surely forge a bonus point try.

Remarkably, Buccaneers played their best rugby in this period and were swiftly driving towards the northerners’ goal line. All players were finally galvinised and plenty of hands were involved before Martin Staunton powered over for a 69th minute try. Carty duly converted and then kicked a fine penalty three minutes later when Kenny McCombe was sin binned for slowing Buccs momentum. Perhaps they should have gone for broke in search of a seven-pointer but the penalty left just the minimum between the sides. In a final flurry, the midlanders just could not salvage a match-winning score while Mark Best was off-target with a drop goal attempt at the other end of the pitch.  

This was a rusty performance by Buccs and it took them too long to eradicate errors. Their backline looked the more inventive but Quins pack laid the groundwork for their victory despite the endeavours of ATHLONE AUDI Man of the Match recipient Kiripati, who put in his best display of the season.

BUCCANEERS:- S.Layden; B.Henshaw, C.Finn, A.Hayman (captain), S.Macauley; B.Carty, M.Dolan; M.Staunton, G.Halligan, D.Higgins; J.Tormey, D.Qualter; K.Kiripati, S.Casey and L.Satchwell. Replacements:- C.Kindregan (for Casey, 32 mins), D.Heffernan (for Halligan, 49 mins), E.O’Reilly (for Layden, 60 mins), P.Reilly (for Higgins, 74 mins), S.Casey (for Kindregan, 76 mins) and G.O’Connor.


BELFAST HARLEQUINS:- M.Heaney; H.Howard, M.Wylie, W.Stewart, K.Adams; L.Cambridge, J.Fullerton; N.Simpson (captain), T.Fraser, R.Lutton; D.Annett, N.McComb; K.McCombe, O.Loughead and D.Dass. Replacements:- R.Scholes (for Fullerton, 21 mins), S.Gilliland (for Annett, 30 mins), M.Logan (for Simpson, h-t), N.Simpson (for McCombe, 49 mins), M.Best (for Cambridge, 56 mins) and M.McGrath.


Referee:- Gary Conway (IRFU).




BUCCANEERS U-20s maintained their 100% winning sequence in the South-West Conference Division One when defeating U.L.Bohemian 16-3 at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. This was a creditable result for Buccs who were minus some key players including Ireland U-20 duo Rory Moloney and Jacob Walshe as well as Ben Carty and Eoghan O’Reilly on duty with the club’s Senior squad.


Playing on a stamina sapping side pitch where underfoot conditions were particularly demanding, Buccs were generally the better outfit. However, in an often scrappy contest, they too did not make the most of having the assistance of the elements in the first half, after which they led 6-3. Sean Doyle opened the scoring with a penalty at the end of the opening quarter and then cancelled out a U.L.Bohs reply before the break.

Playing at stand-off, Doyle edged Buccs further ahead with his third penalty just before the hour mark. Due to Bohs injuries, scrums went uncontested early in the second half which did not help the Pirates as this was an area they were becoming increasingly dominant through the fine work of Conor McGrath, Conor Morrissey and Saba Meunargia. But the midlanders maintained their focus and workrate and they began to play with more purpose and panache in the closing stages in a mainly forwards battle. Four minutes from time, Buccs went through the phases with lots of players getting their hands on the ball before Sam McCormack sealed victory when he finished off good work for a try left of the posts. Doyle’s conversion completed the 16-3 winning margin.

McCormack and Evan Galvin were others to perform with distinction in the pack where Meunargia showed commendable leadership. Doyle and Harry Hughes were pick of the backs with Cormac Langan having a fine second half input. Buccs are now second in the league table, just one point adrift of Cork Constitution whom they meet next month following another trip to Cork to face UCC in a key fixture.

BUCCANEERS:-  H.Hughes; B.Goode, C.Langan, S.Dempsey, B.Gilligan; S.Doyle (captain), R.Dixon; C.McGrath, C.Morrissey, S.Meunargia; J.O’Rourke, C.Romaine; S.McCormack, R.Enraght-Moony and E.Galvin.




BUCCANEERS travel north to Belfast where they face Malone at Gibson Park in a ‘must win’ Ulster Bank League Division 1B fixture on Saturday, kick off 2.30 p.m. Buccs still retain fourth position in the league table where Terenure College hold a seemingly invincible lead while second placed Corinthians are now seven points ahead of the midlanders, so victory in east Belfast is vital for Buccs aspirations.


Malone are second from bottom. They defeated table proppers Dungannon last week for a first win in nine matches but Malone are potentially a much better side than their league position suggests. Consequently, Buccs must be on their guard as well as being focussed and competitive at this compact venue. James McKinney is a talented playmaker at outhalf and Taylor Acheson and Jonny Creighton are two other very promising backs. Similarly, forwards Alan O’Connor and Connor Joyce have immense potential while Mike McComish and Neil Alcorn are two other solid forwards for the Belfast club. Buccs will surely be a more cohesive unit than last week. They led 23-6 in Athlone when the sides met earlier this season but dropped their tempo and concentration before hanging on to win 23-20. Nevertheless, they can extend their fine record over Malone, but they will have to work seriously to do so.

BUCCANEERS WOMENS team complete their All-Ireland League fixtures when they entertain Edenderry at Dubarry Park on Sunday, scheduled kick off 1 p.m. When the sides met earlier in the season at the Co. Offaly venue, it turned in to a fractious affair. Buccs have endured a frustrating Division 2 Central campaign, primarily due to the unavailability of a spine of their more experienced and able performers for a variety of reasons. But they will be hoping to sign out by giving a solid account of themselves on home soil. 

BUCCANEERS THIRDS take on Castlebar in the Connacht Junior 2 League at Dubarry Park. This game is also scheduled for Sunday with a 2.30 p.m. kick off but, due to Ireland’s opening game in this season’s RBS Six Nations Championship against Scotland also being played on Sunday, the Thirds game could be played under lights on Saturday night. This Buccs outfit are on a decent run and, with more to play for, should be capable of making home advantage pay.

BUCCANEERS U-14s Connacht League final fell victim to the prevailing weather last weekend when the pitch at Ballyhaunis was deemed unplayable. The young Pirates’ decider has been rescheduled for the same venue again on Sunday next, kick off time being 11.30 a.m. Corinthians are their opponents and will be a tough nut to crack. However, Buccs skills and organisation has been improving noticeably as they have progressed through the season. Confidence will be healthy too following their impressive semi-final win and, if Buccs can improve another notch or two on that, then they can capture the title provided they put in a sustained all-round effort.

Best of luck, guys!

IRELAND U-20s take on Scotland in Athlone on Friday

IRELAND U-20s commence their RBS Six Nations Championship in Athlone on Friday night when they tackle Scotland in an ELECTRIC IRELAND home series fixture kicking off at 7 p.m. Two Buccaneers players Jacob Walshe and Rory Moloney are in the Ireland squad. Tickets can be purchased at the turnstiles or in advance at The Bounty. See separate article for further information and match preview.  


Connacht Emerging Talent squad named for game against Leinster North Midlands