Buccaneers face a stiff test on Saturday when they travel to Templeville Road to take on Division 1B leaders St Mary’s College in an enticing Ulster Bank League match.
The Dubliners are looking good to make an immediate return to the top flight and will be counting on making home advantage pay in this fixture, but Buccs can put it up to any side in this division when they are on song.
Indeed, the Pirates were more than a shade unfortunate to lose by four points when the sides met in Athlone in the early stages of the league. Not only were the Midlanders understrength on that occasion, they also sustained three injuries in the first half as well as a highly controversial red card to David Heffernan after a mere 13 minutes. Nevertheless, Buccs dug really deep on that occasion and the title favourites were glad to escape from Dubarry Park with their victory.
Buccaneers look like missing some players for this game too, with Stephen McVeigh’s ankle now in plaster and Shane Delahunt an injury concern also following his early enforced replacement against Dolphin. The Athlone side were disappointingly poor in that tie and their inconsistent form has been hugely frustrating. However, when the majority of their players are available and in tune, then Buccs are capable of some exhilarating rugby.
Hopefully, next Saturday will be one of those days as they chase a top-four finish. St Mary’s have a well-balanced and strong squad at the moment, with Munster’s Ivan Dineen and Leinster’s Darragh Fanning being key players in their three-quarters line. Young outhalf Sean Kearns and speedster Terry Kennedy on the wing can trouble the visitors. Rob Sweeney leads the Metropolitans from the front row where young hooker Hugo Kean is very promising.
Lock Ciaran Ruddock and number eight Kevin Sheahan are two other formidable forwards for the hosts. They will provide a massive challenge for the Pirates, but if Delahunt, Conor McKeon, and Rory Moloney are fit and raring to go for the Athlone club, then a smashing contest is in prospect.