Naas 16 Buccaneers 24
A 12 points scoring salvo in the final 2 minutes by Buccaneers transformed the outcome of their first ever competitive meeting with Naas when the Pirates made a successful raid at Forenaughts on Saturday.
By Michael Silke
Buccaneers 24-16 victory moves the midlanders up to second place in the Ulster Bank League Division 1B following this piece of grand larceny in a well-contested but often stop-start affair played in ideal sunny conditions at the Co. Kildare venue.
Buccaneers made three changes ahead of the game with Danie Poolman coming in at fullback and Luke Carty reverting to outhalf in place of Alan Gaughan who was on GAA duty with Athlone. Danny Qualter made his first start of the season at lock with Ruairi Byrne moving to the bench and Rory Moloney also made his first appearance at wing forward in place of Evan Galvin. Naas had four changes in personnel with injury ruling out Fionn Higgins resulting in Fionn Carr moving to fullback. Michael Skelton returned at flyhalf with Peter Osborne switching to scrumhalf and Max Whittingham dropping to the bench. In the Hoops pack, prop Dan O’Byrne and flanker Eoin Walsh replaced Jason Harney and Ryan Casey respectively.
In front of a decent attendance, Naas made the early running with a Skelton break the earliest threat to the visitors’ line. Buccs weathered this early spell and then struck for two tries in quick succession before the end of the opening quarter. Both scores emanated from moves when Buccs turned over possession from the hosts with Kolo Kiripati breaking from a scrum after a Naas put in and Conor McKeon and Carty linked before Mata Fifita powered through the centre to send McKeon scampering through near the posts for a 15th minute try which the scrum half converted. Almost immediately a teasing McKeon chip over the cover could have yielded a second try but the ball bounced away from Shane Layden. However, the Pirates notched their next try within four minutes with Kiripati again coming away with possession and John Sutton snappily transferring the ball to Moloney who showed determined strength to surge over for an unconverted try wide on the right which gave Buccaneers a 12-0 advantage.
However, Naas responded promptly when Kiripati (who was to have an eventful outing) missed a tackle and former Bucc Carr finished off a swift counter attack to touch down at the posts for a 21st minute try which Osborne converted. The game lacked shape for periods before Naas reduced the arrears further on 32 minutes. Fifita made a carry following a scrum close to the Buccs line but support did not arrive quickly and Osborne duly slotted over the penalty conceded for holding on. Buccs had a scoring opportunity just before the interval when, after Carty had punted a penalty to the right corner, they brought play to in front of the home posts where they lacked precision and patience before conceding a relieving penalty to the homesters who trailed 12-10 at the break.
Shane Delahunt replaced ex-Naas hooker Sutton at half-time and Ruairi Byrne entered the fray just three minutes into the second half when Cian Romaine, who was carrying a knock from the opening period, was forced ashore. Poolman made a terrific break to combine with Layden whose grubber kick ahead was knocked on by Naas but Buccs got no reward from this close-in scrum. Kiripati then came off second best in a collision with his opposite number Paulie Tolofua on 47 minutes and a nasty ear injury forced the Pirates skipper off with Sutton rejoining the action. Tolofua too was withdrawn shortly afterwards.
Buccaneers now became a bit ragged and Carr, varying his game more than usual, began to cause problems for the midlanders’ defence. An Osborne penalty following offside edged Naas ahead and then Stephen McVeigh got caught in possession in midfield. Dissent by a teammate saw this penalty brought ten metres nearer the Buccs goal line and Osborne gratefully accepted to give the homesters a 16-12 advantage. Naas were now forcing the pace and, following a touch-judge’s intervention, Qualter was yellow-carded with seven minutes remaining. The Hoops piled forward and Jordan Conroy did well to stop a swift Osborne counter.
Buccs were now defending resolutely to protect what looked like a losing bonus point but the outcome transformed dramatically in the final two minutes. Then the Athlone side turned over possession close to their own line and Conroy, who had been unable to train during the week due to illness, took off like a rocket up the left flank. At the half-way line he was confronted by another speedster in Carr but the Tullamore youngster left the former Connacht wing flailing in his wake as he took off again to arc from one wing to the other to leave a number of despairing defenders in his slipstream for a quite magnificent solo try in the right corner. McKeon added a splendid conversion to put Buccs 19-16 ahead.
From the restart, Buccaneers won possession and finally clicked as a unit to put a wonderful move together in the final move of the contest. Excellent handling and support play stretched Naas from one side to the other before Eoghan O’Reilly skipped past Will O’Brien for an unconverted but bonus point try on the right for a remarkable 24-16 victory that moves Buccs up to second place in the league table.
Two short sharp spells of clinical accuracy by Buccaneers yielded their four tries and victory, despite a somewhat fractured display. They kicked away too much possession, especially to a home backs unit that had potent threats in Carr, Osborne and centres Henry Bryce and Johne Murphy. Injuries disrupted Buccs rhythm in the second half but the midlanders did not shirk effort and industry, particularly backs McKeon and Fifita and forwards Martin Staunton and McVeigh, who kept going to the very end. Newly promoted Naas were devastated to not only lose through that final Buccs flurry but to also come away empty-handed. However, they will learn from this setback and they are well equipped to compete at this level.
Buccaneers: D.Poolman; R.O’Connor, S.Layden, M.Fifita, J.Conroy; L.Carty, C.McKeon; M.Staunton, J.Sutton, D.Quinn; C.Romaine, D.Qualter; S.McVeigh, R.Moloney and K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements:- S.Delahunt (for Sutton, h/t), R.Byrne (for Romaine, inj. 43 mins), J.Sutton (for Kiripati, inj. 47 mins), R.Grenham (for Quinn, inj. 63 mins), E.O’Reilly (for O’Connor, 73 mins) and G.Lynch.
Nass: F.Carr; R.O’Connor, J.Murphy, H.Bryce, A.Shanahan; M.Skelton, P.Osborne; D.O’Byrne, C.Kings, A.Coyle; P.Monahan, D.Benn; E.Walsh, W.O’Brien (captain) and P.Tolofua. Replacements:- W.Larkin (for Tolofua, 56 mins), M.Whittingham (for Shanahan, 65 mins), C.Johnson, S.Reilly and A.Kearney.
Referee: Jonathan Peak (IRFU).
Buccaneers are home to UCC in the Ulster Bank League at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. Kick off is at 2.30pm.