Buccaneers moved into the final play-off berth by overcoming promotion rivals Old Wesley 25-9 in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B match played at Dubarry Park on Saturday.
Buccs made three changes for this their final home fixture of the season. Danny Qualter and Shane Delahunt were available for duty in the home pack while Eoghan O’Reilly returned on the left wing for exam-tied Callum Boland with Alan Gaughan switching to full-back. Old Wesley continued to rotate their starting 15, which included a trio of ex-Buccs in prop David Henshaw, his cousin Billy Henshaw on the right wing, and Paul Harte on the other flank. Another Athlone man, Adam Kennedy, was introduced at fly-half in the second half by the visitors, adding further spice to this crunch contest.
Old Wesley took an early lead when Buccs were caught offside and Ian Cassidy kicked a fine penalty. Delahunt’s surge forward from a close-in lineout yielded a 10th-minute penalty which Conor McKeon converted. However, the Midlanders were guilty of slowing the ball on 17 minutes and Cassidy made no mistake with a straightforward penalty from the 22. McKeon was withdrawn after half an hour following an accidental clash of heads with Mark Rowley.
Alex Hayman came on in the pivotal outhalf role and a minute later Ben Carty knocked on in the tackle when Buccs had an overlap in midfield. Buccaneers were beginning to create opportunities, and when they moved the ball swiftly from right to left just inside their own half O’Reilly got in for a try wide on the left to give them the lead. Gaughan assumed place-kicking duties but saw his conversion attempt fade to the left of the near upright.
The Athlone side piled forward for the remainder of the half, but despite getting over the visitors’ line in one raid they could not add to their tally before a relieving penalty to the Leinster outfit left Buccaneers 8-6 to the good at half time. The Pirates were a more urgent and cohesive crew on the restart and a magnificent Gaughan penalty from halfway within two minutes of the change of ends signalled the home side’s intent. Ten minutes later, Old Wesley had a third attempted clearance blocked down, but the referee ruled on this occasion that Cian Romaine’s block was a knock-on.
Cassidy tapped over a penalty to leave just two points between the teams, 11-9, as the game entered the final quarter. However, this was to prove Old Wesley’s final score as Buccaneers took a firm grip on proceedings to dominate territory and possession. It was still a bit nervy for the big home following until the Midlanders’ endeavours finally reaped reward when Rory Moloney, Qualter, and Romaine all displayed handling that any back would have been proud of in a flowing 68th-minute move finished off by the latter. Gaughan’s conversion increased Buccs advantage to 18-9.
The pressure on Old Wesley was unrelenting and in the last move Conor Finn robbed Ngawini and evaded Cassidy’s tackle to stretch over the line between the posts for Buccaneers’ third try. Fittingly, the final act was left to Kiripati to kick a composed conversion to seal the thoroughly deserved 25-9 victory.
Buccaneers now move above Old Wesley into the play-off berths with just one round of matches remaining. Destiny is in their own hands as they prepare for a final league outing away to Shannon on Saturday week.