Buccaneers closed the gap on fourth-placed Old Wesley to just a solitary point in the Ulster Bank League Division 1B table following a 20-10 victory over Blackrock College at Stradbrook, Dublin, on Saturday.
A battling Buccs outfit had to work hard for this win but, despite lacking the precision of recent fine away performances, they were fully deserving of a second successive double-score victory in a game played in dry but windy conditions after a pre-match hail shower.
Buccaneers made two changes for this match, both in the pack. Fit again Garreth Halligan resumed at hooker while Connacht Academy’s Rory Moloney returned in the back row. Owen Cullen added experience and guile to the home pack. Although playing against the cold breeze in front of a sparse attendance, Buccs were quickly on the offensive and a sweeping move initiated by Kolo Kiripati was finished off by Callum Boland for a fourth-minute try, with McKeon adding a terrific conversion.
Moments later McKeon calmly struck a drop goal for an early 10-0 advantage that settled the visitors. Blackrock got better territory as the half progressed and their pressure in the second quarter saw Mannion sin-binned due to an accumulation of infringements by the Pirates. Despite a concerted spell of pressure, Blackrock could not capitalise on their temporary numerical advantage. Buccs were hugely committed in defence, with Moloney making one rampaging surge clear to lift the siege.
Then man of the match, Romaine, thundered forward from his own 22 and it took the combined tackles of Rock backs Hugo Harbison and Dave Moore to deny the lock just short of the home line. McKeon, the talented young fly-half, stretched Buccs advantage to 13-0 with a penalty, the final action of the first half, after the Pirates pack had driven Rock off their own scrum.
Blackrock opened their account with a Jack O’Carroll penalty five minutes after the change of ends, when Buccs were slow in rolling away. Chances were limited in the third quarter before Buccs grabbed a second try just after the hour mark. Buccs made progress down the right initially and, following good work there, they stretched the hosts when the ball was moved inside leading to Boland claiming his second touchdown, this time in the left corner.
McKeon added a second touchline conversion to put the Athlone side in a healthy 20-3 lead. Blackrock took the game to the visitors in the closing stages. Over-elaboration by Buccs in midfield saw them lose possession on 74 minutes, and David Scott-Lennon pounced on a handling error to break away for a try which O’Carroll converted.
However, Rock could not secure a losing bonus point even though Gaughan was the second Pirate to be yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on in the dying embers of this contest. Buccaneers have hit a good vein of form at a key stage of the league as they bid to reel in that play-off berth from Old Wesley, whom they play next in their penultimate fixture.
Romaine excelled again in this victory, while Moloney was a constant menace to the hosts. Kiripati, Mannion, and Meunargia had their moments too. Conor Finn was to the fore in the backline where McKeon, Carty, and Boland all did well in this vital win.