Buccaneers look to continue their winning form when they travel to Dublin to take on Old Wesley in the Ulster Bank League on Saturday.
Due to Ireland’s opening Rugby World Cup game against Canada, this division 1B fixture will kick off at 4.30pm in Donnybrook.
Both sides enjoyed opening-day wins, but last year’s division 2A champions looked in fine form when securing a bonus-point against UL Bohs in Limerick, winning by 5-33. As a result Buccaneers will be looking to step it up another gear to ensure they maintain an early push for promotion, under new coach and former Connacht prop Brett Wilkinson.
They enjoyed a 21-11 victory over Shannon in the opening round in front of a large crowd at Dubarry Park when producing a strong second half.
Both teams were much changed from last year, with Michael Mannion, Connacht Academy outhalf Conor McKeon, Graham Lynch and Ryan O’Meara all involved in AIL action for the first time for the home team. Ben Carty was back in the centre after a sojourn in Spain, while Ireland u-20 players Stephen McVeigh and Rory Moloney joined the wily Kolo Kiripati in the home backrow.
Shannon, with new coach former Munster prop Marcus Horan at the helm, included recruits Shane Airey and Shane Monaghan in their starting day squad, which faced into the breeze in the opening half.
Buccs took some time to get going, showing some early jitters with debutant Lynch having a clearance blocked down inside the opening minute. However it was an ill-judged pass in midfield that ultimately led to the opening score of the match when Buccs were then rucked off their own ball and conceded a 12th-minute penalty, which Ronan McKenna tapped over for Shannon.
It took a terric tap tackle by McKeon to deny his opposite number Airey a clear run in for what looked like a certain Shannon try, but instead Buccs levelled four minutes later. Martin Staunton swooped on a loose ball in midfield and McVeigh made huge ground before being stopped by a shoulder tackle that was deemed illegal to earn a penalty which McKeon slotted.
Both sides were enjoying a fair share of possession without threatening the whitewash, but Buccs were beginning to click somewhat better. With their passing improved and nerves settled, they produced produced their best attack which unlocked the Shannon defence in the 28th minute, with Alan Gaughan wrong-footing the cover to finish with an excellent try on the left.
McKeon was wide with the conversion, and Buccaneers should have added a second try within three minutes when David Butler hared down the left flank to draw the last defender. On this occasion his offload was just that bit too far forward for the supporting Rory O’Connor.
The Pirates ended the half on the offensive to force two close-in line outs, but both throws went awry and their 8-3 half-time lead looked vulnerable.
However Buccs looked more urgent and cohesive in the second half and within minutes had stretched the lead with a McKeon penalty after good work from O’Connor and Kiripati.
With the momentum, Buccaneers were rewarded again for some swift handling on the counterattack with O’Connor cleverly chipping over three defenders to claim possession and secure a game-changing try. McKeon added the conversion for an 18-3 lead after 48 minutes.
McKenna and McKeon then traded penalties just before the hour mark to leave Buccs 21-6 ahead before Shannon produced their best spell of a lively encounter. With Buccs’ substitute Sam McCormack yellow carded for slowing possession, Shannon hoped to reap the reward, but a strong home scrum kept them out. And when Sean McCarthy looked like capitalising on a stretched home defence, Kiripati got across to force the lock into touch 10 minutes from time.
Eventually this Shannon spell of pressure was rewarded after 72 minutes when Shane Mullally had the strength to get over for a try, which McKenna was unable to convert. However that was as close as Shannon could get, with Frank Bradshaw-Ryan sin-binned following an off-the-ball skirmish in the dying moments.
* Buccaneeers held a minute’s silence prior to kick-off to honour the memory of Dr John O’Meara, Paddy Kilcommons, who captained the club’s first Connacht Senior League winning team, and Dermot Dunning, a long-standing supporter.
BUCCANEERS: S Layden, R O’Connor, A Gaughan, B Carty, D Butler, C McKeon, G Lynch, J Walshe, S Delahunt, M Staunton (cpt ), M Mannion, R Byrne; S McVeigh, R Moloney, K Kiripati. Replacements: C Boland for O’Connor 49, A Hayman for McKeon, inj 64, S McCormack for McVeigh 64, S Flanagan for Delahunt,71, R O’Meara.
SHANNON: R McKenna, R Mullane, S Mullally, T Bennett, D O’Donovan, S Airey, D Evans, T Cusack, S Malone, N Horan, F Bradshaw-Ryan, S McCarthy, J Foley, J Vaughan, L Nicholas (cpt ). Replacements, W Leonard for Bennett h/t, S Monahan for Mullane 47, T Chan for Cusack 49, J Cronin for Malone 49, A Dunne for Vaughan 59, J Vaughan for Foley 60, J Foley for Vaughan 70.
REFEREE: Oisin Quinn (IRFU ).