The gap between Division 1B leaders Buccaneers and the chasing pack is now a full 16 points after they overcame UL Bohemians 39-27 in an action-packed eight-try thriller on the University's 4G pitch at the weekend. Elsewhere in 1B, relegation-threatened Galwegians gave themselves a boost with a hard-fought win away to Ballynahinch.
In Division 2A, Corinthians dropped to second from bottom after a defeat away to Malone while promotion chasing Sligo were narrow victors at home to Boyne in Division 2C.
BALLYNAHINCH 7 GALWEGIANS 20, Ballymacarn Park
Scorers: Ballynahinch: Try: Ryan Wilson; Con: Justin Rea
Galwegians: Tries: Peter Claffey, Marc Kelly; Cons: Morgan Codyre 2; Pens: Morgan Codyre 2
HT: Ballynahinch 7 Galwegians 7
Galwegians are hoping this is the turning point of the season after flanker Marc Kelly's try steered them to a much-needed 20-7 win away to Ballynahinch.
'Wegians halted their three-match losing streak and drew within two points of third-from-bottom Shannon in a relegation battle that is sure to ebb and flow throughout March and April. This result has knocked Ballynahinch out of the top four.
Both sides lacked a clinical edge early on at Ballyamacarn Park where 'Hinch out-half Ross Carlisle was stopped just short following a pacy break, and handling errors prevented the visitors from opening their account.
It took 35 minutes for 'Hinch to break the deadlock, a powerful scrum providing the platform for in-form centre Jordan Grattan to charge through a gap and replacement Ryan Wilson followed up to touch down. Full-back Justin Rea added the extras.
However, 'Wegians were level within four minutes. Promising Connacht Academy lock Peter Claffey punished a couple of missed tackles with a try converted by teenage out-half Morgan Codyre, as the sides turned around at seven points apiece.
The next score would be crucial and the visitors got it, Codyre landing a penalty to move the westerners in front for the first time. Now facing into the wind, 'Hinch blew a try-scoring opportunity with a forward pass and then scrum half Blane McIlroy watched a penalty effort from the 10-metre line come back off the post.
Brian McClearn's men had the winning of the game and this time they saw it out, Codyre punishing a high tackle with three more points and then blindslide Kelly popped up to claim the clinching try, converted once again by Codyre (a Connacht Schools Senior Cup-winning star with Colaiste Iognáid last year).
BALLYNAHINCH: Justin Rea; David Busby, Stuart Morrow, Jordan Grattan, Davy Nicholson; Ross Carlisle, Blane McIlroy; Chris Stevenson, Jonny Murphy, Stuart Orr, James Simpson, John Donnan, Callum Irvine, Conor Joyce, Michael Graham (capt).
Replacements: Jonny Blair, Andrew Harper, Gareth Gill, Ryan Wilson, James McBriar.
GALWEGIANS: Aidan Moynihan; Matthew Dever, Alan McMahon, Dave Clarke, Ronan Moore; Morgan Codyre, Eamonn Dowling; Jason East, John Moloney, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Anthony Ryan, Peter Claffey, Marc Kelly, Josh Pim, Eoghan Masterson.
Replacements: Martin Fox, Patrick Curran, Matt Towey, Rory Gaffney, Daniel Carr.
UL BOHEMIANS 27 BUCCANEERS 39, University of Limerick 4G pitch
Scorers: UL Bohemians: Tries: Harry Fleming, Rick McKenna, Rory White; Cons: Rick McKenna 3; Pens: Rick McKenna 2
Buccaneers: Tries: Alex Hayman, Kolo Kiripati, Daniel Keane, Rory O'Connor, Shane O'Leary; Cons: Alan Gaughan 4; Pens: Alan Gaughan 2
HT: UL Bohemians 13 Buccaneers 17
Barring a late season collapse, Buccaneers look destined to claim the Division 1B title and promotion after beating second-placed UL Bohemians 39-27 on the University's 4G pitch.
Buccs now have a 16-point lead at the top of the table with just five rounds remaining. They ran in five tries in Limerick, including one from Connacht's Shane O'Leary, who played in the centre having recently returned from an injury lay-off.
These are two very attack-minded teams so it was no surprise that this was an open and free-flowing encounter. The Pirates led 17-13 at the interval, centre Alex Hayman and captain Kolo Kiripati both touching down and number 10 Alan Gaughan kicking the rest of the points.
UL's Kiwi full-back Rick McKenna ran in a rousing try and converted it himself to edge the hosts in front, before Gaughan fired over a penalty to square things up at 20-all and set up a mouth-watering final quarter.
Despite missing two of their key attackers in the Ireland Sevens-tied Jordan Conroy and Shane Layden, the Athlone outfit strung together back-to-back tries to give themselves a match-winning cushion. Replacement Daniel Keane and winger Rory O'Connor both crossed the whitewash to seal another try-scoring bonus point for Brett Wilkinson's side.
Bohs centre Rory White finished off an excellent try by darting in under the posts, putting the outcome in doubt again at 32-27. However, as they pushed for a much-needed win, the hosts were floored by O'Leary's last-minute intercept score from halfway which keeps the Pirates on course for the top flight.
It was a heartbreaking finish for UL who emerged pointless from a rip-roaring game that they contributed so handsomely to. They have slipped to third in the table and will be looking to rally as they face into three massive March fixtures with Ballymena, Galwegians and Old Wesley.
UL BOHEMIANS: Rick McKenna; Finbar Aherne, Harry Fleming, Rory White, Cian Aherne; Robbie Bourke, Angus Lloyd; Padraig Nesbitt, Philip Dowling, Mike Lynch, Daragh Frawley, Noel Kinane, James Ryan, Ian Condell (capt), Brian Walsh.
Replacements: Joe Moloney, Peter Kelleher, Craig Trimble, Joe Murray, James Lennon.
BUCCANEERS: Luke Carty; Rory O'Connor, Shane O'Leary, Alex Hayman, Callum Boland; Alan Gaughan, Frankie Hopkins; Martin Staunton, John Sutton, Saba Meunargia, Daniel Qualter, Simon Meagher, Stephen McVeigh, Rory Moloney, Kolo Kiripati (capt).
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Rory Grenham, Evan Galvin, Daniel Keane, Dean McMahon.
DIVISION 2A Result
Malone 37 Corinthians 10, Gibson Park
Division 2C Result
Sligo 27 Boyne 22, Hamilton Park