For the third time in four matches Buccaneers ran up an impressive tally of 49 points as they dished out a 49-22 defeat to fellow contenders Old Wesley in their Ulster Bank League match at Donnybrook, Dublin, on Saturday.
By Michael Silke
In calm and dry conditions, the invading Pirates arrived in large numbers to this D4 seat of rugby for this important Division 1B encounter between two teams separated by just a single point at the top of the league table. Buccs support was augmented by youth players from the club who were playing Old Wesley prior to attending the Ireland v Canada Autumn International later on in the nearby Aviva Stadium.
This Ulster Bank League clash on the 4G surface got off to a flying start with Buccs taking play up from halfway in a move which involved Stephen McVeigh creating an overlap for Eoghan O’Reilly to score centrally after just two minutes of play. Alan Gaughan’s conversion was a foretaste of a productive day’s work with the boot as the outhalf converted five of the Athlone side’s six tries in addition to three penalties giving him a 19 points impact overall on the proceedings. Three minutes later, good work on the deck by Saba Meunargia earned a penalty that was slotted over to give the visitors an early 10-0 lead.
Old Wesley were not for simply lying down and attacked deep inside Buccs territory. John Sutton’s aggressive tackling on the back foot effected a turnover. Then as play moved laterally, the hooker’s forceful play ensured possession was retained again by Buccs now under serious pressure. On 15 minutes a relieving clearance by the metropolitans fell into the hands of a vigilant Jordan Conroy inside his own half. His options seemed limited as Buccs had yet to regroup into attack mode but the young winger had other ideas and backing his pace, which he possesses in much abundance, Conroy set off firstly with his back to goal. Straightening somewhat and finding some crossfield gaps, his arcing run brought him past a handful of defenders. With two still to beat, he sprinted between them at full and serious tilt to dot down at the posts for a special try of quality not often as spectacularly taken in the Buccaneers colours. Gaughan duly converted and also landed a penalty as Buccaneers advantage now stretched to 20-0.
Old Wesley strove hard to get back into the contest and Buccs had a setback when McVeigh, who was to the forefront with a high tackle count, was forced off through injury to be replaced by Ruairi Byrne. The city side finally opened their account after half an hour when Tim Clifford got in for a try converted by Barry McLaughlin. The homesters maintained their momentum and Iain McGann soon grounded for their second try with McLaughlin adding the conversion. Graham Lynch made one good steal in this period of home pressure and O’Reilly made a fine breakout before Mata Fifita was yellow carded for a perceived high tackle in the closing moments of the half. McLaughlin duly slotted over the penalty with the final kick of the first half with Buccaneers advantage now whittled back to 20-17.
A sense of Déjà vu entered the minds of Buccaneers supporters for the Pirates had led 35-17 in the corresponding fixture last season, yet somehow contrived to throw victory away on that occasion. When Byrne was guilty of slowing ball and joined Fifita in the sin bin in the early minutes of the second half, matters looked ominous for the midlanders but Gaughan stroked over his third penalty to steady the ship somewhat. While down to 13 players, Buccs regrouped with Shane O’Leary being introduced in the centre for his debut and Shane Layden reverting to fullback. The general team ethic was not just in attack but defensively also with notable energy at this stage. It was a full squad effort but notable tackling by Gaughan was evident as was his attacking distribution and shrewd kicking out of hand.
Roscommon’s Danny Qualter was also very much evident in marshalling both the lineout and the line of defence which was tested frequently but stood firmly intact more and more as time moved on. Buccs aggression resulted in a 55th minute try by skipper for the day Layden quickly followed by a bonus point try from the lively Evan Galvin. Gaughan converted both to restore Buccaneers 20 points cushion.
Wesley continued to battle and eventually found the Pirates short of numbers on the left side of defence for Rory Stynes to touch down for an unconverted try, which proved to be their only score of the second half. Buccs struck back swiftly through the outstanding Cian Romaine who, with much to do from the home 22 metre line, took a hard tackle in his stride to hold himself out from the touchline to score an unconverted try with aplomb. Gaughan and O’Leary engineered the final try of Buccs half dozen with the latter marking his debut with a touchdown on the right and flyhalf Gaughan completing the handsome 49-22 winning margin with the conversion.
This was a rousing team display which exemplified organisation, energy, fitness levels (improving with each game) and a serious commitment in teamwork and improved team capacity; all the more laudable considering the regular changes in personnel. Buccaneers now hold outright leadership of Division 1B.
OLD WESLEY:- R.Stynes; B.McLaughlin, I.Leota, G.Finucane, A.Jeffares; T.Clifford, A.Griggs; D.Henshaw, C.Maguire, J.Burton; M.Dunleavy, I.McGann, D.Horan (captain), S.Boyle and M.Rowley. Rolling replacements:- C.Telford, M.Gately, D.Phelan, J.O’Sullivan and A.Kennedy.
BUCCANEERS:- L.Carty; E.O’Reilly, S.Layden (captain), M.Fifita, J.Conroy; A.Gaughan, G.Lynch; M.Staunton, J.Sutton, S.Meunargia; C.Romaine, D.Qualter; S.Meagher, E.Galvin and S.McVeigh. Replacements:- R.Byrne (for McVeigh, inj.), C.McKeon (for Lynch), S.O’Leary (for Carty), R.Grenham (for Staunton) and E.Maher (for Sutton).
Referee:- John Erskine (IRFU).
Buccaneers and Galwegians have the limelight all to themselves next weekend when they square up in a floodlit Connacht derby at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Friday night. This Ulster Bank League Division 1B clash has a 7.30 p.m. kick off.