Buccaneers suffer relegation following narrow play-off loss

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Buccaneers captain, Shane Layden, pictured with mascots, Joe O’Sullivan and Sally Fleming, prior to the play-off loss to Queen’s University

Buccaneers captain, Shane Layden, pictured with mascots, Joe O’Sullivan and Sally Fleming, prior to the play-off loss to Queen’s University

BUCCANEERS 24 QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY 30

RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

It’s relegation for successive seasons for Buccaneers following their All-Ireland League play-off defeat to Queen’s University at warm and sunny Dubarry Park on Saturday. Buccs battled relentlessly to the end but came up against a well-drilled and committed Belfast outfit who were smarter on the day. Queens progress to a playoff decider but it’s Division 2A for the midlanders next season.

Conditions were perfect for this duel, with no breeze with which to contend. Buccaneers forced a fourth minute penalty in the opening scrum of the contest but Luke Carty’s long range effort faded wide of the far upright. From possession following a lineout near halfway Queens got the vital opening score when Rory Bell found a gap through the centre of the home defence to score a ninth minute try between the posts. Ritchie McMaster added the straight-forward conversion to settle the visitors.

Buccs retorted with a sustained spell close to the visitors’ line during which Queens conceded a series of penalties and had both Bell (12 minutes ) and Alastair Burke (17 minutes ) yellow carded while Matthew Keane somehow escaped censure for a close-in knock on that was far more deliberate than Robbie Henshaw’s against Toulouse! A penalty try should have been awarded to the Shannonsiders in this sequence but the home pressure was eventually rewarded when Kieran Joyce capitalised on Colm Reilly’s swift pass to stretch over the College line for 21st minute try on the left converted by Carty.

Queens got away with running down the clock whilst down to 13 players and soon got a further lucky break as Buccs endeavoured to capitalise on their temporary numerical superiority. Mark Keane intercepted a promising raid by the midlanders inside his own half and hared away to touchdown near the posts for a 25th minute try which McMaster converted. In hindsight, this was the killer score as it helped Queens hold their nerve at a stage when it seemed they might implode.

Nevertheless Buccs responded positively and Joyce careered his way through the northerners’ cover to send Corbett scampering forward and the winger wrong-footed Michael Orr to score a 30th minute try wide on the right. Carty’s fine conversion levelled the scores at 17-17.

Queens finished the half on the offensive to win a 37th minute penalty when Claffey was tempted offside. Referee Joy Neville sin-binned Sean Masterson in error in this incident and then blew about one minute prematurely for half-time following McMaster’s placekick that gave the visitors a 17-14 lead at the interval.

Buccaneers, with Rory Moloney replacing McDonnell at the break, restarted the more purposeful outfit and earned a 45th minute penalty which Carty struck nicely to tie the scores. But they quickly conceded one themselves, McMaster punishing them from the tee just two minutes later. Rory O’Connor came on for Corey Reid at this stage with Shane Layden switching to centre. The exchanges threatened to boil over shortly afterwards and Queens captain David Whitten was next in the sin bin on 54 minutes but another McMaster penalty edged his teammates 23-17 ahead after 58 minutes. Martin Staunton was introduced for Conor Kenny at this juncture.

Eight minutes later, Orr kept Carty’s kick for touch in play but clearly knocked on inside his own 22. This was missed by the Munster team of match officials and smart interplay in a pacey Queens counter-attack (allied to some soft home tackling ) as the referee played advantage was finished off by Matthew Keane for a try wide on the right. Ex-Ballymena outhalf McMaster added the extras to bring his tally to 15 points.

The Pirates now applied fierce pressure and Shane Layden powered through a quartet of Queens defenders to score a 74th minute try behind the posts. Carty’s swiftly taken drop kick conversion narrowed the Athlone side’s arrears to six points with as many minutes remaining. They pounded the Ulster side’s 22 for the remainder of a gripping contest but the students remained composed when it mattered most to hang on for a win that puts them in touching distance of Division 1A.

On reflection it was not this defeat that ensured relegation for the Pirates but earlier matches that were there for the taking that Buccs somehow did not finish off in a most frustrating and disappointing campaign. A long hard review will need to be taken but there are sufficient quality players in the squad, as well as promising young talent coming through the ranks, to ensure Buccaneers will bounce back promptly from this major setback.

BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland; S.Layden (captain ), C.Reid, K.Joyce, D.Corbett; L.Carty, C.Reilly; C.O’Donnell, J.Sutton, C.Kenny; R.Byrne, P.Claffey; S.Masterson, B.McDonnell and E.Galvin. Replacements:- R.Moloney (for McDonnell, h/t ), R.O’Connor (for Reid, 48 mins ), M.Staunton (for Kenny, 61 mins ), C.Kenny (for O’Donnell, 70 mins ), G.Lynch (for Reilly, 76 mins ), R.Grenham, O.Treacy and M.Hanley.

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