A late try secured a narrow 24-22 victory for Young Munster against Buccaneers in a well contested Ulster Bank League Division 1A encounter played in sunny conditions at Tom Clifford Park, Limerick, on Saturday.
The bonus point win keeps the Cookies in touch for a top four finish, while Buccs, who rallied from 19-3 down to edge ahead going in to the final quarter, will gain little solace from their losing bonus point as they strive to avoid relegation.
Buccaneers made five changes from the home defeat to Clontarf. Skipper Shane Layden, Rory O’Connor and Simon Meagher were all injured in that game and were replaced by Rory Scholes, Alan Gaughan and Cian Romaine. Conan O’Donnell rotated at prop, with Conor Kenny on the bench, where he was joined by Graham Lynch as Conor McKeon returned.
The Cookies had four changes from their surprise loss at Dublin University. Luke Fitzgerald replaced Conor Hayes on the wing, while Gavin Ryan, Mike Madden and Mark O’Meara came in to the home pack in place of Peter Meyer, Tom Goggin and Dan Walsh. They also sported a change of colour, wearing their alternative amber jerseys.
Buccs began brightly and a powerful surge forward by Cian Romaine earned a seventh minute penalty which Conor McKeon dispatched to open the scoring. However, the Pirates' scrum-half was yellow carded for a 13th minute knock-on by referee Kieran Barry, who did not issue similar punishment to the home side’s Jason Kiely for a comparable offence when Buccs had an overlap 10 minutes earlier.
The sin bin period was to prove costly for the Midlanders, as Young Munster plundered 12 points to dictate proceeding for the majority of the opening half. The hosts promptly mauled over the Buccs line for a 15th minute unconverted try by Ger Slattery. Six minutes later, Alan Tynan wrong-footed the visitors’ defence with a change of direction that took him in for a try at the posts, which Shane Airey converted for a 12-3 lead.
This scoring burst had taken the wind out of the Pirates' sails. Following a series of pick and goes on the left, Young Munster switched play to the right where Airey’s angled run sent Tynan in for his second try. The full-back converted to give his side a 19-3 advantage after 33 minutes.
But Buccs dusted themselves down and began to enjoy a better share of possession. Following a scrum on the right, Alan Gaughan broke from the 10 metre line to link up with Callum Boland, whose grubber kick ahead was fastened on to by Darragh Corbett for an unconverted try wide on the left in the final move of the half, reducing the home side's lead to 19-8 at the interval.
Young Munster came out for the second half with intensity due to their desire to secure a bonus point try, but Buccaneers defence resisted stubbornly and with discipline. Eleven minutes into this half, McKeon’s smart kick ahead was chased strongly by Corbett, who nailed Tynan in possession. The Pirates support arrived swiftly and Gaughan, operating at fly-half with Luke Carty at full-back, strode in for a try. McKeon’s conversion tightened the scoreboard to 19-15 with half an hour remaining.
Four minutes later a brilliant Rory Scholes break sucked in the home defence, but his offload went behind the supporting Boland. However, the winger secured possession to ground the ball near the left flag for a stonewall try. Incredibly, the referee ruled that the pass was forward and did not award the score.
But this setback seemed to get the Athlone team’s dander up and they continued to press forward. A super Ben Carty leap and catch led to Boland and Scholes combining splendidly to send Gaughan in for his second try on 62 minutes. McKeon’s conversion put Buccs 22-19 ahead. Although Scholes was injured in this move, with Graham Lynch coming on on the left wing and Boland switching to centre as a result, a rare and dearly needed victory looked in prospect for the Midlanders.
However, and disappointingly, six minutes from time the visitors lost possession at their own put in, and Young Munster got the ball away swiftly from the back of the scrum to Luke Fitzgerald, who darted in on the blindside for an unconverted but match-winning 74th minute try. Buccs could not conjure up another score, try as they did in the closing stages.
The Cookies were mightily relieved and, arguably, were the slightly better outfit. Tynan, Jack Harrington, Slattery and Ben Kilkenny were to the forefront for them. However, Buccaneers will be rightly aggrieved by a number of decisions that went against them. McKeon and Romaine were their standout performers, with Paul O’Boyle, Gaughan and Boland also doing well.