Buccaneers return to the top flight of club rugby in Ireland, hosting Lansdowne in the opening round of this season’s Ulster Bank League division 1A at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday (2.30 pm ).
Although a massive step-up for the midlanders, they will be looking to build on their superb campaign last year when they won 15 of their 18 games.
With a new coaching team of Darin Classen and Mike McCarthy, and captained by former Connacht and Ireland Sevens player Shane Layden, Buccaneers have already won the Connacht Senior League and Cup double.
Although a youthful squad, there is an abundance of promise. Outhalf Alan Gaughan has developed in recent seasons, Callum Boland, Luke Carty and Rory O’Connor are exciting and versatile backs, while Conor McKeon and Frankie Hopkins vie for the scrumhalf role.
Up front the club has been boosted with the return of Cian Romaine and Conor Kenny, in addition to new recruits, New Zealander Dan Law and Connacht's Peter Claffey and Conan O’Donnell, and recent Ireland U20 captain Paul Boyle from Lansdowne, who join Martin Staunton, John Sutton and young Simon Meagher.
Connacht and Ireland Sevens player Jordan Conroy, who was last year’s leading try scorer, is ruled out through injury, as is Mata Fifita.
Lansdowne had a trio of ex-Buccs in their ranks last season. Lock Josh O’Rourke (sometimes undervalued during his sojourn at Dubarry Park ), prop Jacob Walshe and versatile back Charlie McMickan were all regulars until the latter sustained a cruciate injury that rules him out of Saturday’s joust. Other key players for the Dublin club could be outhalf Scott Deasy, No 8 Willie Earle and tighthead prop Ian Prendeville.
Lansdowne have been highly successful and consistent in recent seasons, winning the AIL title in 2012/13 and 2014/15. They finished top of the table last season, but were knocked out in the play-offs.
Coached by the experienced Mike Ruddock, Lansdowne are once again among title favourites, but Buccaneeers will be looking to hit the ground running.
Mick Grogan is the guest speaker for the pre-match event in The Bounty prior to Saturday’s match against Lansdowne. It includes a three-course meal with wine, free admission to a seat in the stand, and 100-page souvenir programme. For more information contact Geraldine 0861732711 or Pat Hynes 0876883833.