Buccaneers host Belfast Harlequins in the Ulster Bank League Division 1B at Dubarry Park on Saturday afternoon, kicking off at 2.30pm.
Quins have endured a torrid season with just one solitary victory to date, and with just four matches remaining they remain in deep relegation trouble. Just like Buccs, Harlequins were desperately unlucky last weekend to concede a final minute try which cost them victory. However, that performance will have given them some badly needed confidence and they can be counted on to play with a do-or-die attitude in Athlone next weekend.
Consequently, Buccs must grant them respect as forwards such as their towering skipper Neil McComb, Frankie Taggart, and Ollie Loughead will battle to the bitter end. The two Marks, Best and Glover, are the main scoring threats in the Ulster side’s backline. With Quins in dire need of points, they could be boosted by the availability of Rory Scholes and Ricky Lutton.
Buccs proved the stronger outfit when they won 38-20 at Deramore during the World Cup period early in the season. If the Pirates reproduce the form and enterprise of their three recent away displays, then they can make this a winning one against a team that seems to leak too many scores.
A last gasp Sean Kearns try preserved St Mary’s College’s unblemished home record at Templeville Road, Dublin, when they pipped a gallant Buccaneers 19-16 in a very competitive and absorbing encounter on Saturday. Buccs came close to defeating the long-time leaders, but outhalf Kearns, the leading scorer in the top two divisions, showed how and why he tops that statistic with his eye for an opening in the final minute of a highly exciting contest.
Buccaneers made six changes from their below-par showing at home to Dolphin. Callum Boland and Conor McKeon recovered from the flu that ruled them out on that occasion, while Conor Lowndes started at scrumhalf. Shane Delahunt was injured early in that defeat and Garreth Halligan replaced the hooker. Rory Moloney and Danny Qualter were available and returned to the back row and lock respectively, while Fionn Carr and Conor Finn were added to the bench where U-20 Cilliene Walsh was a late call-up for Saba Meunargia who joined Stephen McVeigh on the Pirates’ injury list.
Although missing injured captain Robert Sweeney, St Mary’s fielded a fairly settled side. The home side took the lead at the end of the opening quarter. Good handling in tight confines gave Marcus O’Driscoll the opportunity to strike wide on the right and he held off Conor Lowndes’ tackle for a try in the right corner. Kearns added an excellent conversion, but Buccs replied within three minutes, Conor McKeon drilling over a penalty for hands in a ruck just inside the home 22.
After the restart Buccs were eager. McKeon narrowed the margin to the minimum with a 51st-minute penalty. The leaders responded and this time capitalised on a penalty to touch on the left. From the lineout they mauled impressively and Richie Sweeney grounded the ball between the Buccs uprights for a 58th-minute try, which Kearns converted for a 14-6 advantage. Buccs continued to take the battle to Quins.
In the closing stages Eoghan O’Reilly darted out of the red zone and linked with Fionn Carr who made further good yardage before passing to Lowndes. The scrumhalf also made decent ground on the left before kicking a sublime diagonal ball to O’Connor. Buccs in-form try poacher had the strength and footwork to hand off Fanning to score in the right corner. McKeon kicked a smashing conversion from the touchline to leave St Mary’s ahead 14-13.
Buccs struck a 74th-minute penalty after Ian Cullinane was guilty of not releasing. McKeon thumped over the placekick from 40 metres to put the Midlanders 16-14 ahead with time running out. Unfortunately, Buccs were unlocked and outwitted in the dying moments from a home lineout close to their own 22. Sweeney’s throw was far from straight and St Mary’s made the most of their good fortune when Kearns split the gap between tiring Buccs players to surge away for a 79th-minute try.
Buccs will reflect on yet another missed opportunity, but they have now put in three tremendous away performances, securing what could be a priceless bonus point in this narrow defeat. Martin Staunton had his best display of the season in a hard-working forwards unit where Cian Romaine and Kiripati were prominent throughout. Carty was pick of the backline, while McKeon, Lowndes, and O’Connor also impressed.