A new-look Buccaneers side made a winning start to the rugby season when recording a very comfortable 36-3 Connacht Senior League victory against Galway Corinthians at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday.
While very much a work still in progress, Buccs dominated this encounter from the start, scoring five tries in the process. Victory should, perhaps, have been even more clearcut as the Pirates looked to be fitter, sharper, and further down the road with their preparations than the visitors at this early stage of the season.
Buccs had an interesting mix, including a quartet of debutants, in their matchday squad, which was led out by this season’s captain, Kolo Kiripati. The debutants were evenly divided between backs and forwards with both newcomers in the pack featuring in the front row. John Sutton was sprightly at hooker with young Dylan Quinn operating at tighthead prop. In the backline, the pacey Jordan Conroy was on the wing with Dean McMahon slotting in at fullback.
Buccs got off to a perfect start with Conroy making an immediate impact to score the opening try on the left after just one minute. Alan Gaughan added the conversion and also landed a ninth-minute penalty to give Buccs an early 10-0 lead. Five minutes later, a sublime move initiated by Shane Layden and carried on by Rory O’Connor was finished off in style by Mata Fifita for a try which Gaughan also converted.
Buccaneers were utterly dominant at this stage and soon extended their advantage even further. With Fifita and Kiripati in wrecking ball mood, they piled on the pressure inside Corinthians’ 22 where a series of close-in flurries sucked in the visitors cover before the ball was moved to the right. There, O’Connor reminded the fair-sized attendance of his try-scoring ability when he touched down for an unconverted try.
Buccs intensity dropped after this and Corinthians came more into the contest, despite losing Simon Keller to a 27th-minute injury. The scoreline remained unchanged at half-time, but the Midlanders began the second half just as smartly as the first. Fifita did the damage as O’Connor added his second touchdown just two minutes into the second period; Gaughan’s conversion pushing Buccs further ahead to 29-0.
With the breeze now mainly in their favour, Corinthians enjoyed better possession and territory and opened their scoring with a 54th-minute Feeney penalty. Buccaneers put the issue beyond any doubt with a 57th-minute try. The hosts earned a scrum on the left from which play was switched to the right flank. There, Conroy again demonstrated his pace and eye for a score with another smartly taken try. Gaughan’s fine conversion completed the scoring.
While still very much a work in progress, there was much to enthuse about Buccs’ performance, particularly in the opening half when Fifita and Kiripati were much too strong for their opponents. Playing alongside Layden in the centre, Fifita is like a new signing for the Athlone club, having missed all last season through injury.
Sutton caught the eye in the pack as did a more streamlined Saba Meunargia, who could make a big impact this season. Wings Conroy and O’Connor both showed they have an eye for a score, although Buccaneers will face far more trying tests when the AIL kicks off next month.