Buccaneers leave it to 11th hour against Naas

Buccaneers trio Rory O’Connor, Shane Layden, and Stephen McVeigh, close in on Andrew Shanahan of Naas

Buccaneers trio Rory O’Connor, Shane Layden, and Stephen McVeigh, close in on Andrew Shanahan of Naas

Buccaneers entertain University College Cork in the fourth round of the Ulster Bank League Division 1B fixtures at Dubarry Park on Saturday. This could be a tricky assignment for the Pirates, who will need to play with composure and commitment from start to finish against the Students.

UCC will be buoyed by their terrific comeback last Saturday against Ballymena. Conceding three tries in the opening half hour, UCC trailed by 14 points, but a rousing comeback earned them an 18-17 victory, their first win of this campaign.

Buccs have a number of injury worries. Inspiring skipper Kolo Kiripati, whose ear injury at Naas necessitated considerable stitching, will probably sit this one out. Cian Romaine and Dylan Quinn also incurred knocks in that late victory, but Saba Meunargia and Conor Kelly are nearing returns to active service.

A 12-points scoring salvo in the final two minutes by Buccaneers transformed the outcome of their first ever competitive meeting with Naas when the Pirates made a successful raid at Forenaughts on Saturday. Buccs 24-16 victory moves them up to second place in the Ulster Bank League Division 1B.

Buccs made three changes, with Danie Poolman coming in at fullback and Luke Carty reverting to outhalf in place of Alan Gaughan. Danny Qualter made his first start of the season at lock, with Ruairi Byrne moving to the bench, and Rory Moloney also made his first appearance at wing forward in place of Evan Galvin.

In front of a decent attendance, Naas made the early running with a Skelton break the earliest threat to the visitors’ line. Buccs weathered this early spell and then struck for two tries in quick succession before the end of the opening quarter. Both scores emanated from moves when Buccs turned over possession from the hosts, with Kolo Kiripati breaking from a scrum after a Naas put-in, and Conor McKeon and Carty linking before Mata Fifita powered through the centre to send McKeon scampering over for a 15th-minute converted try.

The Pirates notched their next try within four minutes, Kiripati again coming away with possession and John Sutton snappily transferring the ball to Moloney, who showed great strength to surge over for an unconverted try wide on the right. The score gave Buccs a 12-0 advantage.

However, Naas responded promptly when former Bucc, Carr, finished off a swift counter attack to touch down at the posts for a 21st minute try which Osborne converted. The game lacked shape for periods before Naas reduced the arrears further on 32 minutes. Fifita made a carry following a scrum close to the Buccs’ line but support did not arrive quickly and Osborne duly slotted over the penalty conceded for holding on.

Shane Delahunt replaced ex-Naas hooker, Sutton, at half time, and Ruairi Byrne entered the fray just three minutes into the second half when Cian Romaine, who was carrying a knock from the opening period, was forced ashore. Poolman made a terrific break to combine with Layden, whose grubber kick ahead was knocked on by Naas, but Buccs got no reward from this close-in scrum. Kiripati then came off second best in a collision with his opposite number Paulie Tolofua on 47 minutes, a nasty ear injury forcing the Pirates skipper off; Sutton rejoining the action in his place. Tolofua, too, was withdrawn shortly afterwards.

Buccaneers had become a bit ragged and Carr began to cause problems for the Midlanders’ defence. An Osborne penalty following offside edged Naas ahead and then Stephen McVeigh got caught in possession in midfield. Dissent by a teammate saw this penalty brought 10 metres nearer the Buccs goal line and Osborne gratefully accepted to give the homesters a 16-12 advantage. Naas were now forcing the pace and, following a touch-judge’s intervention, Qualter was yellow-carded with seven minutes remaining. The Hoops piled forward and Jordan Conroy did well to stop a swift Osborne counter.

Buccs were now defending resolutely to protect what looked like a losing bonus point, but the outcome transformed dramatically in the final two minutes. The Athlone side turned over possession close to their own line and Conroy, who had been unable to train during the week due to illness, took off like a rocket up the left flank. At the half-way line he was confronted by another speedster in Carr, but the Tullamore youngster left the former Connacht wing flailing in his wake as he took off again, arcing from one wing to the other and leaving a number of despairing defenders in his slipstream for a magnificent solo try in the right corner. McKeon added the conversion to put Buccs 19-16 ahead.

From the restart, Buccaneers won possession and finally clicked as a unit to put a wonderful move together in the final move of the contest. Excellent handling and support play stretched Naas from one side to the other before Eoghan O’Reilly skipped past Will O’Brien for an unconverted, but bonus point, try on the right for a 24-16 victory that moves Buccs up to second place in the table.

Two short sharp spells of clinical accuracy by Buccaneers yielded their four tries and victory, despite a somewhat fractured display. They kicked away too much possession, especially to a home backs unit that had potent threats in Carr, Osborne, and centres Henry Bryce and Johne Murphy. Injuries disrupted Buccs rhythm in the second half but the Midlanders did not shirk effort and industry, particularly backs McKeon and Fifita and forwards Martin Staunton and McVeigh, who kept going to the very end.

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