Connacht’s two division one rugby sides, Corinthians and Buccaneers, will square up to each other tomorrow evening in a possible top-of-the-table clash at Clooncauneen (7.30pm ).
After four rounds Corinthians, with 16 points, are just one behind second-placed Buccaneers in the division 1B table, while leaders Terenure, who are away to Dublin University, are on 18 points. All three are unbeaten to date with try bonus points making the difference.
Corinthians, with home advantage, will face their local rivals with confidence. Not only have they scored the most points of any team in the division (106 v Buccaneers 92 ), importantly they also have conceded the least (44 v Buccaneers 70 ). And, with the exception of UCD’s 107 points, Corinthians have superior points difference to all teams in division 1A and B. The only blip for the Cloonacauneen outfit is the lack of a four-try bonus point.
Those statistics are inherent in the philosophy being delivered by coach Phil Pretorious, who says he wants his players to go out in every match and “enjoy themselves and do their absolute best”. And tomorrow evening’s match is no different.
“We are not going out to prove that we are the best team in Connacht or getting involved in a derby match. We are playing just one of 18 games in the league. The moment you get embroiled in emotional stuff, it clouds rational thinking,” he says.
However the South African, who has guided Corinthians’ advance in division 1B, is not underestimating tomorrow’s challenge.
“Buccaneers have a very strong squad with a lot of Connacht players and we would expect them to use their huge forward unit to grind us down. They also have some good tactical kickers, so our back three must be ready, in addition to some serious pace out wide.”
However Corinthians’ “adventurous” play will continue in a backline in which Knocknacarra lads James Buckley and Finn Gormley have revelled in the expansive game, allied to the pace of backrow players Aaron Conneely, James Connolly and Eoin Masterson, and Connacht u-20 outhalf Sean O'Hagan. Given a licence to attack from anywhere, Corinthians will look to outrun their opponents tomorrow.
“We like to play adventurous rugby and our club members love it too, but what really interests me more is that in the last two games, in driving rain and against the wind, we have come from behind to win, so we are also a good all-round side.”
Although Corinthians are unbeaten, Pretorious says talk of promotion for a second successive year is premature.
“Our focus last year was promotion, this year it is about going out and enjoying ourselves. The focus is on our performance and we have talked about it - the emphasis is really on taking it one game at a time, to enjoy and do our utmost best. We are not putting ourselves under pressure.”
Last weekend Corinthians came back from a 13-3 deficit to preserve their 100 per cent record in a hard-fought encounter with Dungannon, winning by 16-24.
There was little to separate the sides at the break with outhalf Sean O'Hagan opening the scoring with a penalty after 20 minutes, while Stuart McCluskey converted two - the second just before the break to give the Ulster side a 6-3 lead.
Dungannon maintained the momentum after the restart, taking a 13 - 3 lead when a quick lineout resulted in Paul Jackson bursting through the defence to touch down, with Peter Nelson adding the extras.
Corinthians reacted positively and were rewarded with a penalty try after Dungannon failed to halt the home side’s rolling maul. O’Hagan converted to leave just three points between the sides, but the home side immediately worked their way back down to the Corinthian 22 and were rewarded another penalty which Nelson tapped over.
Corinthians once again responded. Gary Ward, Denis Buckley and Donnacha Phelan were influential on the attack, and when the ball was spread wide, James Connolly crossed in the corner.
With the conversion added, Corinthians took a one-point lead and set about defending their slim advantage before striking a killer blow. From a line-out 20 metres from the home side’s line, Corinthians utilised their superior maul to drive all the way to the line with prop Denis Buckley grabbing the touchdown. O'Hagan added the extras for an eight point victory.