Eoghan O'Reilly about to ground the ball for Buccaneers' second try against UCC two weeks ago.
By Michael Silke
This mouth-watering clash kicks off at 2.30pm and should draw a bumper crowd to the Athlone venue. Buccs lead the table by 13 points with just three rounds of fixtures remaining, and two of these games are at home for the Pirates. Victory on Saturday would confirm that they win the league title and also gain promotion to the top flight. However, even though third placed Naas trail the midlanders by 17 points they are still very much in contention as they have a match in hand. So both teams have everything to play for and it should provide a cracking contest.
Naas gained promotion to Division 1B for the first time this season but the Co. Kildare club quickly adapted to life at this level. They have won nine matches to date and have a decent scoring difference of +56 in their favour which reflects the enterprising rugby they endeavour to play. They have some terrific backs orchestrated by wily and nimble duo Johne Murphy and Fionn Carr, the latter also having played for Buccs whilst he became Connacht’s all-time leading try scorer. Versatile back Peter Osborne, the only Division 1B player in the Ireland Clubs squad, is a top class placekicker and also a threat with ball in hand while Henry Bryce is a strong-running centre. Flanker Will O’Brien captains the visitors for whom prop Adam Coyle and No.8 Paulie Tolofua are key cogs in a lively pack. Buccs must curb their influence on supply and possession.
Buccaneers were very efficient in the first ever meeting between the sides last October. After soaking early pressure the midlanders struck for two tries at the end of the opening quarter to go 12-0 ahead. Naas had the greater dominance thereafter to edge into a 16-12 lead but the Pirates hit back in a thrilling finale, when they had a player in the sin bin, to grab a late brace of tries that earned them a bonus point and left Naas empty-handed.
Buccs are well capable of ensuring a greater share of territory and possession come Saturday. But they will need to be more clinical and cohesive than they were in a rare off-colour display at UCC where decision-making was below par. Focus and direction too will need to be improved; both can and surely will. Conor McKeon and Mata Fifita will have greatly benefited from that match as they had been out for some time due to injuries while Eoin Griffin is another back who will have prospered from further game time. Alan Gaughan could be fit to return so Head Coach Brett Wilkinson will have options and permutations to consider in this sector.
In the forwards exchanges John Sutton could come up against his former Naas teammates although Shane Delahunt will also be a strong contender to start at hooker for Buccs. Kolo Kiripati sustained a nasty ear injury in an accidental clash with fellow South Sea Islander Tolofua when the sides met earlier in the season and he will be hoping to have a less eventful outing on this occasion. Jamie Dever is another player who will have benefited from his recent matches as injury has ruled him out for quite some time while Rory Moloney is available following his recent red card against Dolphin. Danny Qualter, Stephen McVeigh and Martin Staunton have been highly consistent of late in the pack for the Pirates and they can provide key back-up to their skipper in this joust. Simon Meagher should also be in contention to start after the injury that ruled him out against UCC.
Naas have made rapid strides this season and are a real threat, but Buccaneers have been extremely consistent and enterprising for the majority of the season as their +166 scoring difference confirms. On home ground and in front of hordes of Pirates, destiny is in their own hands and feet. If they play with unrelenting but controlled aggression particularly at the breakdown, then Buccaneers desire and sheer will to win can lay the platform for match-winning scores.