Ballymena next up for table-topping Buccs

Conor McKeon will be in action for Buccaneers when they face Ballymena on Saturday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon will be in action for Buccaneers when they face Ballymena on Saturday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Buccaneers make the long trip to Eaton Park on Saturday for a critical Ulster Bank League Division 1B clash against Ballymena.

A string of excellent recent displays ensure Buccs currently top the table following seven wins in eight matches.

Ballymena, who are in fourth position, will offer a stern test, having claimed five victories in eight matches. Mata Fifita, Eoghan O’Reilly, Alan Gaughan, Shane Layden, and Conor McKeon have all made important contributions for Buccs in the opening three months of the campaign.

It should be a revealing match for the two teams, who are eager to be promoted back into Division 1A.

Meanwhile, last weekend Buccaneers’ U20s visited Naas RFC in Johnstown. The game opened with breakaway tries for both teams in the opening minutes. Sam Hastings ran over for Buccs shortly after kick-off and Ross Cooper converted to see Buccs lead 7–0 almost immediately. Naas responded with a try of their own and a successful conversion to set the score at 7-7 10 minutes into the game.

Line-outs were evenly contested, but the Buccaneers scrum proved dominant and insurmountable throughout the game. A strong and disciplined pack saw Buccs drive Naas backwards almost every time. Eoin Maher came on for Kristian Jockler before half time. The sides battled on until just before half time when Naas scored and converted a try off the back of a scrum to leave the sides 14-7 at the break.

The second half opened with Buccaneers providing a lift in the tempo of the game. Knowing they needed the points to keep in contention with the teams at the top of the table, they played with renewed focus. A game which was dominated by forwards in the first half changed as Buccs adapted their game plan and began to kick deep into the opposition’s half. This kept Naas on their toes, and gave Buccaneers an advantage as they now had more time on the ball; Naas couldn’t rush their defensive line as they had in the first half. Dan Keane came on for Owen O’Reilly and Ryan Convey replaced Paddy Browne. Buccaneers kept play down at the Naas 5-metre line for several minutes and this bore fruit with Eoin Maher scoring from what is one of the Athlone side’s strong features, the attacking maul. Ross Cooper converted to bring the sides level at 14 all.

The Athlone side continued to dominate the rest of the game with powerful scrummaging and clever kicking to touch. Oisin Rowe came on for Conor Harewood, in time to see another try scored for Buccs in the 13th minute of the second half. Two more unconverted tries brought the score to 31 points for Buccaneers, while Naas had a last-minute surge to score a try without conversion just before the final whistle. The 19-31 success for Buccs was a positive and satisfactory performance from the Athlone side. This victory makes it five consecutive wins for Buccs’ U20s so far in the league, with the next match against Barnhall Maynooth next Sunday, December 4, in Dubarry Park at 2pm.

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