Buccaneers moved five points clear at the top of the Ulster Bank League Division 1B following their 24-12 victory over Galwegians in front of a decent attendance at Dubarry Park last Friday (November 18 ).
Neither side had any Connacht fulltimers released to them so there was much change in both starting line-ups. This had the greater impact on Buccs who were without Danny Qualter, Saba Meunargia, Danie Poolman, and Rory Moloney with Stephen McVeigh absent due to injury. Kolo Kiripati returned at number eight after injury, Martin Staunton switched sides in the front row with Rory Grenham coming in at loosehead prop, while Ruairi Byrne returned to the second row. The preference for Conor McKeon at scrumhalf on this occasion was the solitary change in the home backline.
Meanwhile, Wegians had three changes from their previous outing. Mitch Lam and Dom Robertson-McCoy were not available, being replaced by Matt Quinn and Martin Fox, with Aidan Moynihan moving from fullback to standoff. Josh Pim replaced Jack Dineen at number eight with the latter named on their bench.
Despite the visitors having the advantage of the diagonal breeze at the start, Buccs’ relentless work forged a firm grip on the proceedings in the opening period, penning the westerners deep in their own half. It took the Pirates 15 minutes before their first real chance evolved, when Alan Gaughan was stopped close to the Wegians line and the homesters forced a five-metre scrum. From the resultant scrum McKeon dummied and darted through for a smartly taken try which Gaughan converted.
Four minutes later a second home try looked likely with Evan Galvin, Kiripati, and John Sutton surging forward, but possession was then hastily kicked away inside the Wegians 22. Luke Carty found an excellent touch on the right soon afterwards and the light blues just could not clear their lines, before Mata Fifita thundered through for Buccs’ second try on 22 minutes, Gaughan adding the conversion.
Seven minutes later another highly promising raid was spoiled by a crossing offence before further intense pressure by the Midlanders, in which Staunton was prominent, yielded a 33rd-minute penalty, slotted comfortably by Gaughan to put Buccaneers 17-0 to the good. But just a minute later the Tribesmen stunned the hosts with a try in their first real inroad into the home half, when substitute Doron McHugh made an immediate impact, bursting through to touchdown at the posts. Moynihan’s conversion left the scoreboard reading 17-7 at half time.
Five minutes after the change of ends, Buccs endeavoured a rash and ill-judged quick restart, gifting possession to the visitors who promptly put their best move of the match together. A deft handling left to right sent Anthony Ryan over for an unconverted try near the corner. Galwegians, who had struggled from the start, were now resurgent just five points adrift and, from here to the final whistle, it was a much more evenly contested affair.
However, Buccaneers enjoyed another spell of pressure. Eoghan O’Reilly, Galvin, Cian Romaine and Gaughan all got close to the visitors’ line in this period, with the latter looking certain to score before a desperate Wegians defence somehow turned over possession.
Buccaneers were eventually rewarded when O’Reilly finished off a further wave of Pirates attacks for a 57th-minute try wide on the right. Gaughan landed an excellent conversion with what proved to be the final score.
Neither team could secure a coveted bonus point. A mazy run by Galwegians’ Alan McMahon was the most threatening effort of the final quarter. Overall, Buccs had the greater class, with the Athlone side’s busy hooker Sutton taking the man of the match accolade in their double score 24-12 victory. Fifita, Romaine, Galvin, and McKeon were also prominent for the winners who have now made it seven successive victories in their climb to the summit.
However, this ended up being a tighter contest than it looked likely to be in the early exchanges and, in the difficult conditions and close nature of the game, the Shannonsiders did not utilise their inexperienced bench bar one late substitution.