Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B, Ollie Campbell Park, Dublin 4/3/2023
Old Belvedere vs Buccaneers
Buccaneeers’ Ciaran Booth tackled by Micheal O’Kennedy and Kale Thatcher of Old Belvedere
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

OLD BELVEDERE moved above Buccaneers in the Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B by virtue of their 34-7 victory at well attended Ollie Campbell Park, Dublin, on Saturday. The more physical Belvo outfit were more clinical when opportunities presented themselves. Buccs will point to a growing list of absentees for various reasons but too many unforced errors ultimately influenced their downfall.

With Shane Jennings getting his first URC game time with Connacht, Daniel Hawkshaw debuted in the centre for Buccs while Harry West was available to return at flyhalf. This meant a switch to fullback for Michael Hanley and Ross Murphy-Sweeney moving to the left wing. Old Belvedere had three changes with Michael O’Kennedy restored in the centre, Jack Breen returned at blindside flanker and Ireland U-20 Ronan Foxe came in at tighthead prop. On a dull afternoon, weather and pitch conditions were near ideal for rugby.

Knock-ons were unfortunately a too regular occurrence by the Pirates in this contest between two of the top three sides and Ryan O’Meara spilled the ball directly from the kick-off. This gave the hosts immediate territory and possession and, while Buccs held out their initial onslaught, James Bollard got over near the posts for a 3rd minute try converted by O’Kennedy.

Buccs responded positively and enjoyed some promising attacking positions. David Wilkinson escaped the clutches of a couple of Pirates to clear his lines, Josh O’Connor overhit a pass to Hanley with the home rearguard stretched and a last ditch tackle on Ruairi Byrne (after he had gathered a poor Wilkinson kick) meant that Old Belvedere’s line was not breached in the opening ten minutes. The Athlonians were to soon rue this when Belvo went on the offensive up the left before a telegraphed crossfield kick was not dealt with by either Murphy-Sweeney or Hanley and Tom Mulcair pounced for an unconverted 13th minute try.

Thereafter, regardless of ongoing unforced errors, Buccs made a game of it for the remainder of the half. They piled on sustained pressure for a lengthy spell around the half-hour mark with a number of players going close, Steveni Lombard being particularly prominent in this period. But despite getting tantalisingly close to the home line on a number of occasions, they found the disciplined Old Belvedere defence unrelenting. O’Kennedy landed a penalty for the city side just before the break to extend their lead to 15-0 at halftime.

Four minutes after the change of ends Mulcair notched his second try, smartly grounding the ball when initially held up before picking it up and pirouetting away from bemused Buccs defenders to score. O’Kennedy added the conversion. Buccs came back upfield but another overhit pass into touch spoiled another promising raid.

Old Belvedere then applied a spell of good pressure, picking and going efficiently to pin Buccs back. The Pirates defence held firm until Jayden Beckett got the ball and the New Zealander showed great strength and desire to crash over between the uprights for 52nd minute bonus point try converted by David Wilkinson. Now trailing 29-0 there was to be no way back for Buccaneers and Briain Leonard’s 65th minute unconverted try cast the Pirates further adrift.

But they never stopped trying and, following a couple of sallies by Ciaran Booth, they were rewarded for their endeavours when West sent Stephen Mannion through for a try which West converted to leave the final score 34-7 in favour of Old Belvedere. The clubs traded positions on the league table with just three fixtures remaining in a very tight race to the finish.

Belvo’s second Kiwi Kale Thatcher was prominent throughout at No.8 getting serious support in the forwards battles from Foxe and Conor Owende. If Lombard could match his lineout throws with his play around the park he would be a standout for Buccs for whom O’Meara and Byrne worked hard in the pack with West, Will Reilly and substitute Frank Hopkins catching the eye in the backs unit.

OLD BELVEDERE:- J.White; A.Robles, J.Beckett, M.O’Kennedy, L.McDermott; D.Wilkinson, P.O’Beirne; J.Bollard (captain), C.Dowling, R.Foxe; F.McWey, C.Owende; J.Breen, T.Mulcair and K.Thatcher. Rolling Replacements:- J.Horan, J.Ruddy, H.Flood, J.Tormey, B.Leonard and M.Galvin.

BUCCANEERS:- M.Hanley; J.O’Connor, D.Hawkshaw, S.Mannion, R.Murphy-Sweeney; H.West, W.Reilly; M.Burke, S.Lombard, M.Staunton (captain); R.Byrne, D.Qualter; R.O’Meara, S.O’Connell and C.Booth. Replacements:- T.Shine (for Hawkshaw, h/t), F.McDonnell (for Qualter, h/t), F.Hopkins (for Reilly, 55 mins), J.Kelly (for Burke, 57 mins), O.Dolan (for Lombard, 57 mins), A.O’Carroll (for Hanley, 64 mins), M.Burke (for Staunton, 66 mins) and W.Reilly (for Shine, inj. 76 mins).

Referee:- Keane Davison (IRFU).