Second-placed Buccaneers welcome leaders UL Bohemian for a top-of-the-table Ulster Bank League Division 1B match at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday next (November 5 ). Kick-off time for this hugely anticipated match is 2.30pm.
The Limerick side head the leaderboard with five wins out of five while Buccs are hot on their heels, their only blip being a below par opening day performance at Ballynahinch. A thriller is very much in prospect.
The Red Robins arrive in a rich and productive vein of form with a tally of no fewer than 23 tries in their five victories to date. New coach, Christy Neilan, has them playing a lively and enterprising brand of rugby with more or less the same squad as the past two seasons.
The loss of Cathal Sheridan through injury has not unbalanced them yet, with Rick McKenna switching to scrumhalf and Robbie Bourke returning at standoff. Jamie McNamara has notched five tries so far while Harry Fleming, Joe Murray, and the Ahernes are other threats in their backline.
Captain Ian Condell leads with a never-say-die attitude and the flanker can count on solid support from lock Ed Kelly, Brian Walsh, and prop Joey Conway in a mobile pack.
But Buccs have been fairly productive too apart from their performance at Ballynahinch. A further 17 tries have followed as well as three bonus-point victories. They too have a five-try winger in Jordan Conroy, and Pirates followers will be hoping that he will be recovered from the illness that ruled him out of last week’s win.
Home fans will also be checking on the fitness of Saba Meunargia, Rory Moloney, and Cian Romaine, a trio who add steel and mobility to the Athlone side’s pack while Kolo Kiripati will have benefited from getting back into action last week.
Stephen McVeigh has been excellent to date, Martin Staunton, John Sutton, Danny Qualter, and Ruairi Byrne have been going about their business in an efficient and consistent manner, and young prop Dylan Quinn can be pleased with his contributions so far.
Alan Gaughan’s placekicking radar was much better last week and his partnership with Conor McKeon is blossoming. Competition on the wings is intense with Rory O’Connor, Eoghan O’Reilly, Danie Poolman, and Conroy all strong contenders. Shane Layden and Mata Fifita are a formidable pairing in the centre while Luke Carty has settled very well at fullback. Graham Lynch, Callum Boland, and David Butler are other capable options in the backline.
A cracking, high-scoring contest is a distinct possibility so there should be the best crowd of the season to date for this duel. Both sides have been playing with style, but if Buccs can be a little more precise and hard-nosed then they can prevail in what is likely to be their toughest test to date this season.