Buccaneers take on Dublin University at Dubarry Park this Saturday, in what is even at this early stage of the season a crunch Ulster Bank League Division 1A match.
Fireworks can be anticipated in this encounter as the sides go in search of priceless league points, with the action getting under way at 2.30pm.
Yet to score a point, Buccs prop up the league table and have had absolutely no luck in their four fixtures to date. The loss to Clontarf last time out was the only game that they did not look like securing anything from, but in their three opening fixtures the Pirates were in contention for large swathes of the games. Two of these matches were winnable and saw Buccs fail to hang on from leading positions, yet the Midlanders did not even salvage losing bonus points from any of them.
Injuries have not helped the cause and a lack of sheer bulk in the pack has been another factor. Silly yellow cards contributed to the defeats by Lansdowne and Garryowen. Nevertheless, Buccs have not been that far off the pace to date, so if the players and mentors keep working and believing they will surely kick-start their campaign sooner rather than later.
Dublin University showed it can be done last time out when, following three heavy defeats, they reeled in Young Munster from a 0-14 position to narrowly take the spoils at Tom Clifford Park. They lost quite a number of players from last season’s squad, and coach Tony Smeeth has been endeavouring to find the right balance and blend this term.
Raef Tyrell returned last time out to renew his second row partnership with Jack Burke and that helped their cause. James Bollard has been consistent at loosehead, while Joe Byrne improved matters at tighthead. Centre Michael Courtney captains The Students, who have lively backs in winger Jack Fitzpatrick, Ireland U20 fullback Michael Silvester, and the experienced Angus Lloyd at scrumhalf. Tom Whittle and James Fennelly have rotated at flyhalf and both are reliable place-kickers.
Much will depend on the influence of the home pack in this contest, and Buccaneers will be hopeful that Conor Kenny will get a clean run in the front row trenches where he can count on Martin Staunton and John Sutton battling from start to finish. Second row is less certain, as Cian Romaine is ruled out through suspension following a citing by Clontarf. Peter Claffey’s availability would be a decided help in the engine room where Ruairi Byrne is likely to start.
Leaving Cert student Niall Murray has featured, surprisingly for such a youngster, in Connacht Eagles two recent cup matches, and the teenager could make his Buccs debut at lock from the bench. Two other young guns - Paul Boyle and Simon Meagher - have done well in the Pirates’ backrow, and it is hoped that Dan Law might be fit to return following his recent injury. Evan Galvin and Ronan Farrell will be able and willing operators in this sector if called on, as are Conan O’Donnell and Rory Grenham in the front row.
Last season’s leading try scorer, Jordan Conroy made a welcome return after injury in the game at Clontarf. He will have benefited from that outing, even if he did not see as much ball as he would have liked. Frankie Hopkins sustained an injury in that match but should be fit to resume at scrumhalf, where he is likely to link up with Luke Carty.
Alan Gaughan, following his GAA distractions, can now hopefully return to the rich form of last season, albeit in the centre alongside skipper Shane Layden. Rory O’Connor is another who saw too little possession at Castle Avenue. If he gets decent supply he is a consistent try-scorer, while Callum Boland is another hoping to return after injury. Thomas McGann, Eoin O’Reilly and Sean Dempsey are other very promising backs who could be involved in what is really a quite youthful Pirates squad.
Buccaneers must be ruthless against The Students and not allow them to move the ball the way they would like. Effort and work rate has not been lacking by Buccs, but concentration, patience and nous has not always been up to the necessary standards.
The Midlanders really need to get all components dovetailing on Saturday and, if they do, they can earn the elusive win that will eliminate the frustrations to date and restore confidence and belief.