NAAS 24 BUCCANEERS 21
BUCCANEERS winning streak came to an end when Craig Ronaldson’s final kick of the match earned hard-working Naas a 24-21 victory in this Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B match played in artic conditions on the synthetic all-weather pitch at Tullow Rugby Club on Saturday. This fixture, the only one played in Division 1B at the weekend, was moved from Naas where their Forenaughts ground was under snow.
With Oisin McCormack and Shane Jennings both called up to the Connacht squad for their Challenge Cup tie against Newcastle Falcons, Buccs made two enforced changes for this outing. Harry West returned at outhalf with Michael Hanley moving to fullback while Sean O’Connell switched to blindside flanker with James Kelly starting at loosehead prop.
Due to the change of venue and the icy weather, the attendance was understandably a modest one as Naas made the brighter start. The Pirates conceded an unnecessary penalty with a push at an up-and-under and Sam Cahill opened the scoring with the placekick. Will Reilly made a smashing break for Buccs up the centre but home skipper Paul Monahan’s tackle forced a knock-on when a try seemed likely. West then also made ground up the centre but when the ball went loose Naas fastened on to it to clear the danger.
Saul O’Carroll then made huge ground with a splendid 50/22 kick to the left and, following the lineout, Buccs moved forward but Kelly knocked on. However, Naas did not clear their lines effectively and the Athlone side applied composed pressure that was finished off by Cian McCann for a try between the uprights. Hanley’s conversion gave the Pirates the lead 7-3 for the only time in this contest.
The Cobras responded with Will O’Brien making ground on the right and, when the ball was moved infield, Charlie Sheridan escaped McCann’s clutches to run in for a try at the posts with Cahill adding the conversion. Buccs had the next opportunity, initiated by a penalty to the right and followed by a maul, but Stepheni Lombard knocked on in the tackle when the ball was switched infield.
Misfiring Buccs then conceded two penalties for holding in quick succession. Josh O’Connor was caught in possession while an overhit West pass put Danny Qualter in trouble. Cahill landed both placekicks to give the hosts a 16-7 lead at halftime.
Following the change of ends, Naas infringed at a ruck near halfway and following the penalty to touch the Pirates went through a considerable number of phases close to the Kildare side’s line. This pressure resulted in the Naas No.8 Eoin Walsh being sin-binned. Ciaran Booth led the resultant Buccs attack but young McCann, in an eventful outing, was held up over the Naas line. However, O’Connor counter-attacked from the Naas clearance with Lombard carrying the move on and earning another penalty that was punted to the left corner. This time Buccaneers pressure was rewarded when O’Connell powered over for a try which Hanley converted to leave just two points between the teams, Naas 16-14 to the good just before the hour mark.
The Shannonsiders have been finishing strongly in recent outings and looked to be getting on top after a below par opening half display. O’Connor and Lombard were soon making inroads again and McCann, Shane Layden and Reilly combined smartly in a very promising move that forced a penalty for offside. However, Buccs spurned the very kickable position and opted to work the line where they infringed as they endeavoured to get their maul going. In hindsight, the penalty should have been slotted over and the lead regained at this key stage of the game.
Off-colour Buccs made too many errors and wrong decisions, lacking their normal fluidity and sharpness. But this reversal may prove a blessing in disguise as it will surely refocus the squad while the losing bonus point could yet be invaluable. Naas had lost their three previous matches despite not playing badly and they will be in an invigorated mood when the sides renew rivalry at Dubarry Park in early January.
Although disappointed that the first half of the league was bookended by defeats, Buccaneers go into the festive break with a five points lead at the top of the league table, a position that the Athlone club would have been more than happy to accept at the commencement of the season.
NAAS:- F.Higgins; D.Conroy, C.Sheridan, H.Smith, S.Cahill; B.Croke, O.Crawley; J.Barry, T.Dooley, A.Coyle; P.Monahan (captain), P.O’Flaherty; M.Dennis, W.O’Brien and E.Walsh. Replacements:- K.Kiripati, J.Coyle, D.Benn, C.Dempsey, C.Ronaldson, M.Stapleton and J.Rogers.
BUCCANEERS:- M.Hanley; J.O’Connor, S.Layden, S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll; H.West, W.Reilly; J.Kelly, S.Lombard, M.Staunton (captain); R.Byrne, D.Qualter; S.O’Connell, C.McCann and C.Booth. Replacements:- O.Dolan (for Lombard), C.Fokam, F.McDonnell, R.O’Connor, T.Shine and O.Burgess.
Referee:- Andrew Fogarty (IRFU).
All other fixtures home and away were cancelled due to the severe weather and, at time of writing, it is not known if any of them will be rescheduled for next weekend. One big match to look forward to is the Bateman Cup All-Ireland semi-final when Buccaneers renew recent rivalry with Queen’s University. This much anticipated duel takes place at Dubarry Park on Saturday, January 7th; kick-off 2.30 p.m.