Buccaneers face a difficult away test this Saturday when travelling to Stradbrook where they take on Blackrock College in the Ulster Bank League Division 1B.
Matches between these two clubs tend to be relatively high-scoring so an entertaining and lively contest is in prospect. Buccs capitalised on a flying start when the teams met early in the league campaign, in the end prevailing on a 30-28 scoreline. With the carrot of a top four play-off berth dangling in front of the Midlanders, this is a match they must and are capable of winning.
The Pirates' backline poses a threat with ball in hand. If the pack can get on top against the Rock unit, then Buccs can come away with victory. However, Blackrock are capable of overcoming most teams in this division and although seventh in the league table they are not comfortably out of the danger zone so will prove dangerous opponents. They are just five points ahead of UL Bohemian so will be eager and focussed to move further up the leaderboard.
Scrum half Jack O’Carroll will punish infringements with his line and place-kicking and winger David Rowan is another threat for a side that could include Gary Fenn, John Burke, Mike Carroll, Sam Cooke, and Luke Hickey. But Buccs, if disciplined and committed throughout, have the all-round balance to come out on top in what should be an entertaining affair.
Last Saturday Buccaneers maintained their encouraging form by defeating Belfast Harlequins 28-14 at Dubarry Park. Played in near ideal conditions, Buccs were good value for their double score-winning margin, but they spurned the opportunity to secure a precious bonus point after leading comfortably by 28-0 by the three-quarters stage. Quins, spirited throughout, gained some reward for their dogged showing with two final-quarter tries.
The hosts made five changes, four enforced in the pack where Rory Grenham started in place of injury worry Garreth Halligan. Michael Mannion and Evan Galvin replaced Connacht duo Danny Qualter and Rory Moloney, while Saba Meunargia came in for Jacob Walshe, who was unavailable. Conor Finn made his first start of the season in the centre with Alan Gaughan switching to the left wing and Eoghan O’Reilly moving to the bench.
Nevertheless, Buccs were quickly into their stride and opened the scoring with a 10th-minute try. Following a scrum on the right at half-way, the ball was moved smartly infield where Rory O’Connor looped around and sent Gaughan on his way for a try which Conor McKeon converted. O’Connor was swiftly involved again, linking with Kolo Kiripati to set up a tidy drop-goal by McKeon just three minutes later.
As Buccaneers continued to set the tempo, a Harlequins player was guilty of not rolling away at the end of the opening quarter and outhalf McKeon made it 13-0 in favour of the Midlanders with a 28-metre penalty kick. The Pirates stretched their advantage to 20 points with a 30th-minute try after a Ben Carty grubber kick, followed up by Gaughan, forced the visitors to hold on and concede a penalty which the homesters punted to touch near the left corner.
From the lineout their pack drove impressively over for a try by number eight Kiripati, with McKeon adding the conversion. Buccs continued on the offensive following the change of ends and soon added to their tally, substitute O’Reilly making an immediate impact by dotting down for a 49th-minute try shortly after his introduction.
Although McKeon did not convert, home supporters surely anticipated that the Pirates would nab a bonus point. However, apart from a 53rd-minute McKeon penalty earned by further enterprising play, they failed to add to their tally as their focus and application waned. The Belfast side continued to battle, enjoying the better of the exchanges in the final quarter, and McKeon did particularly well to get in among three Quins players to halt a promising attack on the hour mark.
They continued to apply decent pressure inside the home 22, with Galvin and Kiripati denying them within touching distance of the home line before Conall Bloomer drove over near the uprights for a 63rd-minute try which Rory Blake-Knox converted. This score lifted the northerners but they could not breach the Midlanders' defence until two minutes from time, when David McMaster scythed through to set up Blake-Knox for a try which he also converted.
Buccs should really have notched a try bonus point from this outing. They were the superior outfit for the first hour, but lacked precision at times and too many kicks direct to touch or over the deadball line killed momentum at various stages. There was much to enthuse about their play, with Kiripati’s driving contribution earning him the Audi Athlone Man of the Match accolade.
Grenham dug deep again in the front row while lock Cian Romaine was prominent throughout. McKeon was a key influence at fly-half while Carty, Finn, and Boland were always eager for work in the backline for the winners.