Buccaneers RFC made a very disappointing start to this season’s Ulster Bank League Division 1B when they went down 35-13 to Ballynahinch at Ballymacarn Park on Saturday.
On a beautiful sunny afternoon, it took this game some time to catch fire before Hinch, making fewer errors than the visitors, forged a bonus point victory. Their winning margin of 22 points was the same as when the sides met in the promotion/relegation play-off at the same venue at the tail end of last season.
Both teams were much changed from that encounter. The Ulster side started with nine of the side from that meeting with former Bucc Stephen McCauley coming in at fullback for the northerners. Buccs, for whom Saba Meunargia was a late injury withdrawal, had seven changes in personnel as they gave AIL debuts at this level to fly-half Luke Carty, prop Dylan Quinn and wing Jordan Conroy. Conditions were ideal with a light breeze giving some advantage to the midlanders in the opening period.
Ballynahinch had the first scoring chance but Chris Quinn’s 9th minute penalty from the right was a poor effort, and their only miss. Buccs then enjoyed decent territory and possession but could not avail of two try opportunities. Shane Delahunt made a smart intercept two minutes later but Aaron Cairns put in a terrific try saving tackle while fullback McCauley used his pace and guile to halt Conroy’s progress at the end of the opening quarter. Cairns again came to the homesters’ rescue shortly afterwards, darting across to ground a teasing angled Buccs kick ahead of the chasing Shane Layden.
Hinch then punished a Buccs error on 24 minutes. Rory O’Connor rose high to catch an up-and-under but then dropped the ball which the hosts hoovered up to launch a telling counter attack from left to right in which Connor Joyce did most of the damage before sending McCauley scampering in for a try on the right against his former club. Quinn added the conversion and this score rejuvenated Ballynahinch with David Nicholson making huge yardage on a couple of mazy sallies. Meanwhile the Pirates were unlucky with some angled kicks that somehow did not find touch while Alan Gaughan was short with a long-range penalty with the final act of the opening period that ended with Ballynahinch 7-0 ahead.
Buccaneers had made far too many mistakes in that first half but they eliminated their errors for the majority of the third quarter following the change of ends. They were swiftly on the offensive after Hinch’s restart went straight into touch. Following the resultant scrum in midfield Buccs were more purposeful and patient in going through the phases and, when Evan Galvin was stopped short, Cian Romaine was in support to power over for a 42nd minute unconverted try wide on the left. Buccs were now enjoying their best spell of the match and forced a penalty five minutes later when Joyce was guilty of slowing possession but Gaughan missed an eminently kickable placekick that should have nosed them ahead.
Buccs were to regret this error as Michael Graham rumbled through the centre before Hinch moved the ball to the right from where a perfectly flighted cross-field kick found Nicholson on the left flank and he off-loaded to Joyce for a 50th minute try which Jonny McPhillips converted. Conor McKeon took over the place-kicking duty for the visitors to slot over a 53rd minute penalty to leave the Pirates trailing 14-8 with the game still finely balanced as it entered the final quarter. Cairns had a snipe for the Ulster side that was ruled out for a double movement while a debateable knock on ruling spoiled a very promising Buccs raid set up by a smashing Layden surge up the centre.
However, the outcome was settled with two home tries in a three minutes spell that shattered the Athlone side as Hinch enjoyed their best period of the contest. Good pressure forced Conroy to make a fine tackle on Nicholson before Sam Windsor had the strength to get in for a 67th minute try. From the restart Hinch got a slice of luck when Joe Roe, although looking offside, gathered Conroy’s knock back and Jordan Grattan capitalised to stride in for a bonus point try which took the steam out of Buccaneers challenge.
Nevertheless, Buccs kept battling and they gained some reward for their efforts when after another debutant John Sutton was held up close to the home line, Layden was on hand to surge over for a 75th minute try. With McKeon now substituted, Gaughan resumed place-kicking but still without any success. Meanwhile, the penalties began to mount up against the hosts and lock James Simpson was sin-binned at this stage. Yet Ballynahinch had the final say when the impressive Windsor broke through in the final move of the game to notch his side’s fifth try as replacement McPhillips enjoyed a 100% success rate with four second half conversions to complete the 35-13 scoreline.
This match was very much there for the taking for over three-quarters of the game but Buccaneers error count eventually caught them out. The radar was off at line out time, place-kicking was below par and, crucially, tackling was far below what was expected and required. A more measured and aware all-round performance was sorely needed as Buccaneers, disappointingly, lacked precision and composure. Romaine was their outstanding performer and Quinn put in a very creditable effort while Layden was pick of a misfiring backline.
BUCCANEERS:- S.Layden; R.O’Connor, A.Gaughan, M.Fifita, J.Conroy; L.Carty, C.McKeon; M.Staunton, S.Delahunt, D.Quinn; R.Byrne, C.Romaine; S.McVeigh, E.Galvin and K.Kiripati (captain).
Replacements:- R.Grenham (for Staunton, 54 mins), E.O’Reilly (for O’Connor, 56 mins), J.Sutton (for Delahunt, 65 mins), G.Lynch (for McKeon, 74 mins) and J.Foley.
BALLYNAHINCH:- S.McCauley; C.Quinn, J.Grattan, S.Windsor, D.Nicholson; R.Carlisle, A.Cairns; J.Blair, A.Harper, C.Trenier; J.Simpson, J.Donnan; C.Joyce, L.Dow and M.Graham (captain). Replacements:- J.McPhillips (for Quinn, inj. 47 mins), J.Roe (for Harper, 55 mins), C.Phillips (for Cairns, 66 mins), S.Orr and C.Gibson.
Referee:- Shane Kierans (IRFU).
Buccaneers are home to Shannon on Saturday next at Dubarry Park, Athlone, kick off 2:30pm. It is also ‘Family Day’ at the club with Membership Registration from 11am. There will be games, bouncing castle and face-painting, etc. for our younger members!