Buccaneers travel to Naas for a first-ever Ulster Bank League meeting between the clubs at Forenaughts on Saturday.
Naas were promoted as 2A champions and have been making steady progress in recent seasons. Coached by former Ireland international, John Murphy, they will prove formidable foes on home soil. They have an exciting backline that includes Murphy in the centre alongside the powerful Henry Bryce who has featured in Sevens at Dubarry Park. His battle with Mata Fifita should be interesting.
Another more familiar face in the green and white of Naas will be Fionn Carr. The flying winger, who is Connacht’s all-time leading try scorer, featured a number of times last season for the Athlone side. Buccs will be well aware of the danger he poses with ball in hand so he must not be allowed get any space. Flyhalf Peter Osborne is another threat, but fullback Fionn Higgins looks likely to miss out through injury.
Another contest worth keeping an eye on is the clash between the No 8s, where Kolo Kiripati comes up against another South Sea Islander in Paul Tolofua. Ireland U20 prop Adam Coyle and flanker Will O’Brien, who captains the Kildare club, are two of Naas's key forwards.
Buccs delivered the perfect response to last week’s below-par performance by scoring an impressive bonus point 27-3 victory over Shannon in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B game at Dubarry Park.
The Pirates made one enforced change from that loss at Ballynahinch to their starting XV, with John Sutton taking over the hooker berth from Shane Delahunt who was not released by Connacht. However, head coach Brett Wilkinson realigned his backline with Alan Gaughan reverting to outhalf, Shane Layden moving to centre and teenager Luke Carty lining out at fullback.
In the 10th minute Conor McKeon hit a lovely penalty strike to open the scoring before McKenna was off-target on 15 minutes. The visitors got back on terms after Gaughan failed to find touch. Shannon patiently went through the phases before lofting a diagonal kick that the home outhalf was ruled to have carried back over his own line. From the ensuing scrum, the Munster side forced a penalty which Fitzgerald slotted over to tie the scores 3-3 after 23 minutes.
Buccs gave a hint of what was to come four minutes later, but Jordan Conroy knocked-on in the tackle when it seemed he might outpace the Limerick side’s cover. It all clicked for the Midlanders to score a splendid 29th-minute try, set in motion by a strong break through the centre by Layden who linked up with Carty. The youngster had Conroy overlapping to his left, but he opted for a sweet pass in-field to Rory O’Connor who ran through to touch down at the posts. McKeon added the conversion.
Shannon’s Leonard was yellow-carded following an off-the-ball incident and Buccs went into the break 10-3 ahead. Following the change of ends, Buccaneers promptly made their numerical superiority count. Gaughan made a smashing break that brought play close to the visitors’ line. When Kolo Kiripati secured possession there was just no stopping the powerful No 8 from crashing over in the Bounty corner of the ground for a 42nd minute try which McKeon converted.
Five minutes later, Buccs were in the same territory. Evan Galvin won clean lineout possession and the homesters moved the ball crisply across field, Conroy flashing through for an unconverted try on the left. Buccs were firmly in the ascendancy at this stage, 22-3 to the good.
It did not get any better for Shannon when McKenna was sin-binned, Sutton of Buccs joining him there on 68 minutes. The Pirates secured their bonus point try three minutes later when Gaughan blocked down Fitzgerald to force a 5-metre scrum in front of the posts. The visitors held up the hosts’ drive on their line but Buccs got the ball to the left where Conroy notched his second try. Although Gaughan was unable to add the touchline conversion, Buccaneers, for whom the outstanding Cian Romaine was named Audi Athlone Man of the Match, were worthy 27-3 victors.
There was much to enthuse about this performance by the home side. Tackling, which was very poor the previous week, was sharp and committed throughout on this occasion, while the overall support play was eager and much more effective. Place-kicking gave a far better return and the lineout radar was effective. Scrum-time was an area that Buccs will need to work on, but when concentration and cohesion gelled, the Pirates pack was able for the task on hand.