Buccaneers’ home form woes continued at Dubarry Park when they shipped a 43-6 hiding to Belfast Harlequins in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B game played in testing windy conditions on Saturday. With neither promotion nor relegation to stimulate the mid-table Pirates, they were always likely to struggle against Quins - who although just one place behind Buccs were not quite free from fears of dropping into the dreaded relegation dogfight and, consequently, had the greater motivation for this tie. The northerners scored seven tries in what was their best display in the league to date.
The visitors included a quartet with regular Ulster experience in Neil McComb, Michael Heaney, Rory Scholes, and Sean Reidy. Meanwhile, the hosts were missing seven players from the previous week’s win and, for the second time in three matches, had no Connacht players released to them.
Although starting with the elements in their favour, the Athlone side did not help their own cause. After the ball was passed back inside their own 22, the relieving kick went directly into touch and Buccaneers immediately dropped their concentration, allowing Quins to take a quick throw-in inside their own half on the stand side. Before the homesters realised what was happening, Scholes was scooting in wide on the opposite flank for a try in less than 50 seconds.
Buccs had a penalty attempt on four minutes, but Alan Gaughan’s kick drifted wide. However, the centre opened the Pirates account with a penalty six minutes later and then saw his third placekick rebound off an upright. The Midlanders had plenty of possession and territory, but coughed up the ball too often in the face of stout and organised Quins defending. The Ulster side showed them how to get through as Mark Best knifed in for a try at the posts which Heaney converted. Buccs response yielded a number of close-in penalties at which they opted for scrums, but Alex Hayman was stopped at the line following a surging break by McVeigh. They could not breach the Belfast side’s rearguard and had to settle for a second successful Gaughan penalty to leave the score 12-6 in favour of Quins.
Although McComb was clearly a step or two ahead of the kicker from the restart, the towering lock got up to force a penalty and from the subsequent phase of play, Mark McGrath surged in for a 36th minute try. Buccs badly needed a try and they were twice unlucky in the closing minutes. A mazy break by McVeigh found Hayman in support but the home skipper knocked on in the tackle with an overlap to his right while Eoghan O’Reilly then made a snipe followed by a chip over the cover that carried over the dead ball line in the near gale. Harlequins were very strongly positioned 17-6 to the good with the wind and now rain to assist them on the change of ends.
They quickly grabbed their bonus point when Mark Glover made a break before off-loading to Reidy for a try converted by Heaney. It was now the visitors’ turn to enjoy most of the territory and their pressure was rewarded when Heaney romped in for an unconverted try before the hour mark.
After David Butler was caught in possession, Quins punted the ensuing penalty to touch on the left from where the Ulstermen scored a 71st-minute Tom Fraser pushover try converted by Heaney. An exciting raid by Dunlop saw the wing off-load unselfishly to William Stewart for a try on the right in the final move of the game. Best added a fine conversion to complete the 43-6 scoreline.
Harlequins were simply too strong and slick all round with their pack dominating a much lighter home unit while an organised and committed defence dealt with what was an under-par home side. Buccaneers battled manfully but were simply outgunned, missing too many influential figures.