Buccaneers got back to winning ways at home with an impressive bonus point victory over Malone in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B game at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday night. This festive floodlit encounter, sponsored by Sheraton Athlone Hotel, attracted a decent attendance who enjoyed a lively contest.
Both teams made alterations from their previous outings with Buccaneers making six changes in starting personnel, four of them including captain Alex Hayman’s absence enforced through injuries. A Connacht quartet of Danny Qualter, Mata Fifita, Conor Finn, and Shane Layden were available with Billy Henshaw and Jacob Walshe also returning to the starting line-up.
Buccaneers were much more business like than in their error-ridden loss to Ballymena as they began at a high tempo that Malone could not match and the early pressure yielded two out of three successful penalties by Callum Boland in the opening seven minutes. The latter score followed a break by Boland and Finn that took them close to the visitors’ line where the ball skidded from Martin Staunton’s grasp as he stretched for the goal-line. After a brief Malone flurry, sustained home pressure forced another penalty which was punted to touch on the right. A fine maul ensued following the lineout and was finished by Kolo Kiripati for a 20th-minute try which Boland converted. Just four minutes later, the outhalf split the northerners defence from the 10-metre line for a smashing solo try and his conversion gave the midlanders a healthy 20-0 advantage.
Connor Joyce swiftly tapped a close-in penalty and off-loaded to his brother Kieran for a try at the posts with Niall Burns adding the conversion. In the final move of this half, Finn made an exciting break that was carried on by Paul Gallogly. As Buccs sought to move the ball, Paul Jackson was sin-binned for a foot block but Boland drilled the resultant penalty wide so his side’s lead remained 20-7 at half-time.
Despite a terrific maul following the restart, Buccs were not as sharp and urgent in the third quarter during which Walshe was sin-binned for offside on 47 minutes and Layden made one committed chase. The Ulster side came more into the game and they made further inroads into Buccs’ lead when Tom Burns surged over for a 56th-minute try on the left which standoff Niall Burns (one of three brothers in the Malone team ) converted to tighten the margin to 20-14.
But Buccaneers made an instant response with Kiripati rampaging through a number of tackles for his second and Buccs’ third try on the hour mark. The Pirates made one more successful raid in the final move of the contest as Fifita showed great desire and strength to crash over to earn Buccs’ first try bonus point of the season. Man of the match Boland proved a highly capable deputy at fly-half and he landed a splendid conversion which keeps Buccs securely in the top five while depleted Malone slip to eighth
The versatile Boland, who scored 17 points, excelled for Buccs and Henshaw was another back to shine. Kiripati rolled back the years with another massive contribution in the forwards’ battle where fellow South Sea Islander Fifita was also a notable presence as was Staunton, who captained the team for this outing. Overall, the midlanders were industrious, energetic, and composed.