Buccaneers return home to Dubarry Park on Saturday to play Blackrock College in the Ulster Bank League.
Brett Wilkinson’s Buccaneers, lying in fourth place, will need to produce a strong performance at home to overcome an unbeaten Blackrock outfit that had wins over Dublin University (11-10 ) and Shannon in Thomond Park (21-16 ) in the previous two rounds.
Buccaneers, having opened with a victory over Shannon, suffered their first defeat of the season when Old Wesley came from behind to win an exciting and high-scoring division 1B encounter 42-38 at Donnybrook on Saturday.
Buccs, having deservedly led 35-17 after an exhilarating first-half display, should have returned with full points, but they failed to maintain their momentum, while Old Wesley stepped up their endeavours.
While Buccs made just one change to the team that started against Shannon with Connacht’s Danny Qualter replacing Ruairi Byrne, Old Wesley did not have many of their anticipated ex-Buccs in their squad with Adam Kennedy injured, and the trio with Henshaw connections in Cardiff to support cousin Robbie. However they still had Niall O’Brien patrolling the left wing, in direct opposition to another Monivea native Rory O’Connor.
Played in dull, but dry, conditions, the artificial surface encouraged both teams to play at a high tempo. Old Wesley had a first minute scoring opportunity, but Barry McLaughlin’s long-range penalty was wide. Four minutes later Buccs took the lead when Ben Carty sent O’Connor scurrying down the right flank before wrong-footing home fullback Rory Stynes to continue his impressive sequence of tries. Conor McKeon converted, but McLaughlin replied with a penalty after nine minutes.
Michael Mannion was yellow-carded for a foot trip on 15 minutes and the hosts promptly punished Buccs when from a penalty to touch Ian Cassidy profited from good lineout possession to get over between the posts for a try, which McLaughlin converted.
Buccs responded spectacularly with Shane Layden’s break at the end of the opening quarter yielding a penalty on half way, and they grabbed the momentum when Alan Gaughan dotted down for a try. Two minutes later, an O’Connor snipe in midfield sent Layden steaming down the left for a well-executed try. McKeon converted both touchdowns, giving the Pirates a 21-10 lead while down to 14 men.
Old Wesley replied with an O’Brien try which McLaughlin converted, but Buccs were back on the offensive when the impressive Layden again darted down the left, and from a penalty to touch, O’Connor swooped to gather possession from McKeon’s cross field kick, diving for a 30th minute try, which the out half converted.
It got even better for Buccaneers three minutes before half time when Kolo Kiripati intercepted on half way and thundered through for a try at the posts. McKeon maintained his perfect placekicking with the conversion to put Buccs in what should have been a commanding position, 35-17 to the good at the interval.
However Old Wesley scored a try that lifted their hopes within minutes of the restart when scrumhalf Cassidy diagonal kick bounced perfectly for Rory Stynes to scamper in for an unconverted try.
It was all Old Wesley in the next 12 minutes, with McLaughlin landing two penalties and a conversion to Billy Ngawini’s try, levelling the game by the 52nd minute penalty.
A McKeon 56th minute drop goal fashioned by another fine Layden attack nosed Buccs ahead again, but it was not enough to fully steady the ship. James Burton bulldozed over for a 67th minute try and McLaughlin’s conversion was to be the final score.
Buccs spent the last minutes attacking the Wesley line, but the homesteads clung hang on for a nail-biting victory that elevates them to the top of the league table.
OLD WESLEY: R Stynes; B McLaughlin, B Ngawini, G Finucane, N O’Brien; A Large, I Cassidy (captain ); M Gately, D Rowley, O Dervishi; J Hinde, I McGann; D Horan, S Boyle, M Rowley. Replacements: E Stynes for O’Brien 57, I Campbell for Boyle 62, C Telford for D Rowle 62, G O’Brien for Cassidy 71, J Burton for Dervishi 62.
BUCCANEERS: S Layden; R O’Connor, A Gaughan, B Carty, D Butler; C McKeon, G Lynch; J Walshe, S Delahunt, M Staunton (captain ); M Mannion, D Qualter; S McVeigh, R Moloney and K Kiripati. Replacements: R O’Meara for Walshe inj 26, C Bolandfor Butler inj 29, C Lowndes for Lynch h/t, B Farrell for McVeigh 52, S Flanagan for Delahunt 68, G Lynch for Layden inj 74.
Referee:- Frank Murphy (IRFU ).