Top of the table clash as Buccaneers entertain Ballymena

Buccaneers duo Ben Carty and Danny Qualter combine to stop Dolphin’s Barry Fitzgerald

Buccaneers duo Ben Carty and Danny Qualter combine to stop Dolphin’s Barry Fitzgerald

Buccaneers are home to joint leaders Ballymena on Saturday (November 7 ). This much-anticipated Ulster Bank League Division 1B game kicks off under the Dubarry Park floodlights at 7.30pm.

Ballymena lost for the first time last weekend to St Mary’s College, while Buccs will be keen to return to winning ways in what should be an interesting match. Ballymena have been running up decent scores as have the Pirates, so a high-scoring encounter is expected. Centres Callum Patterson and particularly the physical Rodger McBurney will pose a threat for the hosts.

Halfbacks Richie McMaster and Jonny Creighton are two accomplished operators. The Braidmen have a sizeable pack with locks Alan O’Connor and David Whann key figures in this sector. Bryan Young is a very solid prop who could have John Andrew or Ulster u20 captain Adam McBurney alongside him at hooker, while number eight, Matthew Rea, is well capable of notching a try.

Buccs have been accumulating tries aplenty too, and on occasion have been a shade unlucky not to secure more try bonus points. Rory O’Connor is their leading try-scorer with 10 for the season to date, half of these being scored in the AIL. The elusive Eoghan O’Reilly is another who can create havoc while Alan Gaughan can also poach a score.

Dolphin recorded their first home win of the season when they came from behind to pip Buccaneers 24-23 in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B game played at Irish Independent Park, Cork, on Saturday.

Buccs will rue not translating another promising lead into victory for the third time this season. Naivety, lack of concentration, and a growing number of minor errors all culminated in the Pirates departing Cork with a mere losing bonus point.

The Pirates made three changes, with Ronan Farrell coming in to the backrow in place of the injured Kolo Kiripati, as Stephen McVeigh switched to number eight Scott Flanagan made his first start at hooker, while Conor McKeon returned at outhalf in the perfect conditions.

Buccs began strongly, and following a superb maul after a lineout 22 metres from the home line, McKeon switched the attack from left to right where Rory O’Connor claimed the diagonal kick to surge over for an eighth minute try which McKeon did well to convert. Six minutes later winger Eoghan O’Reilly went scampering down the left flank for an unconverted try for the Midlanders.

Crucially, in between these scores, Dolphin gave Rory Scannell an early introduction. Allthough Buccs stretched their lead to 15-0 after 26 minutes when McKeon punished the hosts with a penalty after Michael Mannion was tackled in the air, Scannell’s arrival had a pronounced effect on the outcome.

Following a powerful Scannell break Graham Lynch was sin-binned and Scannell opened Dolphin’s account with the resultant penalty. In the final move of the half, Shane McAuliffe sliced through much too easily from 30 metres for a fine try at the posts. Scannell’s conversion narrowed Dolphin’s arrears to 15-10 at the break, despite his side having been outplayed for large chunks of the first half.

Within three minutes of the restart the sides were level, Cian Bohane finishing off early pressure for an unconverted try wide on the left. Buccs paid dearly for their yellow card, conceding 15 points in that spell, and then Scannell landed a 45th minute penalty to put the hosts 18-15 ahead after Dolphin had squandered an overlap.

Some terrific play took Buccs to 12 metres from the home line where, straight in front of the posts, Barry Fitzgerald came offside to disrupt possession and with it the real promise of a seven-pointer for the Athlone side. McKeon’s conversion of a penalty to tie the scores 18-18 with half an hour remaining was less than Buccs merited from this particular attack.

Just two minutes later, Dolphin regained the lead with vocal home supporters perhaps prompting that a tackle by McVeigh on Scannell was late. The young Munster player accepted the opportunity to drill the penalty over from the much more favourable position where the ball had landed.

Scrums were uncontested in the final stages, but Buccaneers regained the lead eight minutes from time. McKeon punted an angled grubber kick to which Callum Boland won the race to touch down wide on the left for a clever, but unconverted, try. However, the Pirates promptly conceded a soft penalty when not rolling away on their own 22, and Scannell’s 75th minute placekick squeezed inside an upright for the winning score on a 24-23 margin.

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