Buccaneers remain rooted to the bottom of Division 1A of the Ulster Bank League following their 33-7 home defeat to Clontarf on Friday night.
A cold, wet and windy night meant conditions were testing for player and spectator alike, with the elements better suited to the physically stronger visitors, whose bonus point victory, allied to Garryowen’s home defeat, saw the Dublin side leapfrog a pair of Limerick clubs into the top four.
Buccs made four changes for this game. With Rory Scholes ineligible and Conor McKeon on holidays, Darragh Corbett and Graham Lynch returned at right wing and scrum-half respectively. Rory O’Connor replaced Alan Gaughan, with Callum Boland switching to full-back. Ruairi Byrne replaced the injured Cian Romaine in the second row.
Although playing against the breeze, Clontarf made the early running and Boland had to put in a try-saving tackle on Adrian Feeney after 11 minutes. Moments later O’Connor won the race to ground a grubber kick through before a Tarf player could get to the ball. Ben Carty then had to be strong to shunt Royce Burke-Flynn into touch.
Eventually, a clever diagonal kick by Conor O’Brien to his brother Sean on the left flank exposed the Pirates’ defence, although the visiting winger appeared to drop the ball before he grounded it. The try stood, but it was not converted.
Further pressure by Tarf yielded a 32 minute Jack Power try, converted by David Joyce for a 12-0 lead. Three minutes later, Buccs lock Daniel Law was sin-binned for illegal use of the boot.
Clontarf then applied a series of pick and goes until Matt D’Arcy punched a hole in the home cover for a well taken try, with Joyce adding the conversion.
Buccs responded coming up to half-time with Shane Layden being stopped close to the visitors’ line. This attack earned Buccs a penalty, which was punted to the right corner. From the lineout they came close to opening their account, but John Sutton was held up on the visitors’ line, so the Athlone side, who lost both Layden and Evan Galvin to injuries in the opening half, trailed 19-0 at half-time.
Clontarf promptly secured their bonus point try following the change of ends. Anthony Ryan made a telling break to get deep into home territory and the superior power of Tarf’s pack led to Dylan Donnellan driving over for 42 minute try, duly converted by Joyce.
Buccs responded to earn a penalty in front of the posts that was tapped quickly, but the pass that sent Rory O’Connor over the line was ruled forward to the relief of the metropolitans.
Injuries in quick succession to Simon Meagher and O’Connor forced their withdrawals before the hour mark, to further disrupt Buccs endeavours. As the game entered the final quarter, Michael Noone stretched over the home line for a try and Joyce landed his fourth successful conversion to push his side’s advantage to 33-0.
To their eternal credit, Buccaneers battled gamely to the bitter end. The Midlanders gained some reward for their unstinting efforts, and fittingly Boyle was their scorer when he powered through for a final move try, which Luke Carty converted to take the bare look off the 33-7 scoreline.
Clontarf were the stronger, more pragmatic outfit, with Noone, D’arcy and Ben Reilly influential. However, basement club Buccs did not help their cause by kicking away far too much hard won possession and conceding penalties that stifled any impetus, while too often their ball receiver was stationery when getting possession.
They toiled commendably in the scrums and the lineout worked well. Buccs cannot be faulted for their spirited and sustained efforts, which they have maintained consistently throughout a challenging and difficult season.