RUGBY with Michael Silke
Despite a battling and sustained effort, Buccaneers were outgunned on their maiden visit to Rifle Park where Banbridge’s powerful pack laid the foundation for the home side’s 24-0 victory in this All-Ireland League Division 1B game on Saturday. In this first ever meeting between the clubs, the northerners dominated for large spells of a game played in saturated weather conditions.
Buccaneers made three changes for this encounter, Thomas McGann and James Kelly replacing unavailable duo Aidan Wynne and Martin Staunton respectively, while Ruairi Byrne returned to the pack with Owen Treacy moving to the replacements.
Despite the dull miserable weather, underfoot conditions were good. Banbridge quickly signalled their intent with their forwards penning the Pirates back from the kick off. Buccs withstood a fierce onslaught in the opening ten minutes, somehow holding firm against a series of close-in scrums. Fifteen minutes had passed before the midlanders made a meaningful raid when Rory O’Connor made good ground up the left while McGann then had a promising sally up the opposite flank.
With Van Der Merwe constantly thundering forward it was no surprise that the Ulster side finally opened their account, referee Paul Haycock awarding them a 23rd minute penalty try in the face of ferocious pressure by the homesters in the tight. Buccs almost made a swift reply but O’Connor knocked on in the greasy conditions but, although struggling to contain the northerners’ forwards, the Athlone side did well to reach half-time just 7-0 adrift.
Buccs made a promising start to the second half and a good chase by Darragh Corbett was rewarded with a lineout on the left close to the home line. However, they spoiled that opportunity when a player got ahead of the ball carrier. The midlanders enjoyed decent territory in the third quarter but could not breach the home cover. Then another strong maul by Banbridge yielded a 53rd minute penalty which Adam Doherty stroked over for a 10-0 lead.
Just three minutes later, Buccs seemed to have snatched a try in a swift counter attack but O’Connor’s touchdown was ruled out by the referee due to an infringement earlier in the move. Shortly afterwards the match official lost patience with Buccs frailty in the tight and substitute Harry O’Reilly was the unfortunate player to be singled out for a visit to the sin bin. Banbridge soon made their extra man pay when Peter Cromie finished off some sustained play for a 65th minute try which Doherty converted.
Home winger Conor Field was then alert when just getting ahead of Corbett to a grubber along the left by O’Connor while Evan Galvin and then McGann were held out in the right corner in the closing stages as Buccs strove to secure some consolation. Banbridge, however, had the final say when after turning over possession in Buccs final flurry, the Ulstermen put their best move of the game together in a length of field sequence finished off by Van Der Merwe for a try at the posts converted by Doherty to complete the 24-0 scoreline.
This was a torrid test particularly for Buccs young front rowers, with South African Van Der Merwe being a destructive force throughout. Two of the Pirates props are current U20s, while Farrelly is just out of that grade but they will have learned from this battle.
Overall, the Athlone club’s pack lacked the brawn and bulk of Banbridge in conditions not conducive to Buccs preferred style. Nevertheless, the Pirates, who also fielded two rookies at half back, never gave up and competed gamely to the bitter end in a contest that they could still have got something from had handling been better on a number of promising situations. Simon Meagher was pick of a willing pack while Colm Reilly and O’Connor offered most in the backline.
BUCCANEERS:- G.Lynch; T.McGann, R.O’Connor, C.Boland, D.Corbett; M.Hanley, C.Reilly; J.Kelly, J.Sutton, N.Farrelly; T.Rensford, R.Byrne; E.Galvin, R.Moloney (captain ) and S.Meagher. Replacements:- H.O’Reilly (for Farrelly, inj. 31 mins ), O.Treacy (for Moloney, inj. 63 mins ), D.McMahon (for Corbett, 70 mins ), F.Hopkins (for Lynch, 70 mins ), E.Maher (for Rensford, 72 mins ) and E.Maher (for Rensford, temp. 58/66 mins ).
Referee - Paul Haycock. (IRFU ).
Buccs home to Old Wesley
Buccaneers are home to Old Wesley in the All-Ireland League on Saturday next with kick off in Dubarry Park at 2.30pm. Old Wesley, for whom Alan Gaughan is the latest to join the large contingent of ex-Buccaneers in Donnybrook, lie fourth in the league table following a win against City of Armagh and a draw with neighbours Old Belvedere.