BUCCANEERS kicked off life in Division 2A of the Energia All-Ireland League with a very disappointing 24-6 home defeat to Queen’s University at rain sodden Dubarry Park on Saturday. Buccs fielded a massively changed squad for this encounter against the side they had played in their most recent AIL fixture, a play-off at the Athlone venue last May. The Pirates kicked off with only five starters from that match while Queen’s, fresh from their Ulster Cup triumph, were able to call on the bulk of their panel from last season.
Backs Callum Boland, Shane Layden, Corey Reid and Darragh Corbett all featured last May but Evan Galvin was the only forward to have played when the Students made their first ever visit to Athlone. Ruairi Byrne’s start to this game was delayed due to a head injury sustained in the warm-up that necessitated stitching, his belated introduction then bringing that number up to six. This was something that the homesters could well have done without, fielding a mainly youthful and inexperienced pack for this Dubarry of Ireland sponsored match.
Goncalo Caterino started while Byrne was being attended to bringing the number of last season’s U-20’s up to seven in the dreary drizzly conditions. Buccs began promisingly and led through a 10th minute Michael Hanley penalty. Ritchie McMaster levelled the scores with a penalty at the end of the opening quarter.
Buccaneers continued to work hard and forced a number of penalties which they punted to the Bounty corner. However in the increasingly greasy conditions, they failed to add to their tally despite a good spell of territory and possession. Then on 29 minutes David Whitten found a gap in the home defence following a pass that had more than a hint of forward to it and he sent Conor McKee in for a try between the posts. McMaster tapped over the straight-forward conversion to give the visitors a 10-3 half-time lead.
Within a minute of the restart, the Pirates conceded a soft penalty going off feet in midfield. Then debutant Christian Maulaulau was forced back over the Buccs line where referee Andrew Cole rather hastily awarded a five metre scrum to the Students. From this their pack drove over for a fortunate Whitten try converted by McMaster. Five minutes later, the Shannonsiders (who had had to withdraw Byrne by this stage due to his pre-match injury) were awarded a kickable penalty but elected to kick to touch on the left. No reward was gained from this but, as the rain now pelted down, Buccs applied a sustained spell of pressure that could not breach the College cover. Hanley reduced their arrears to 17-6 with a 55th minute penalty.
But that was as good as it got for Buccaneers and the northerners stretched their advantage with a penalty try ten minutes later. The Ulster side now chased a bonus point with a vengeance but, to their credit, Buccs defended resolutely to the bitter end at which stage Queen’s took the spoils on a 24-6 margin.
This was a difficult afternoon for the Pirates and the worsening weather conditions did not help the cause of their spirited but youthful side that also conceded height and weight to their opponents. Evan Galvin, Byrne and Darren Browne battled earnestly in the forwards exchanges while winger Corbett posed their biggest attacking threat. Buccs lack guile also and really must take a more pragmatic approach on occasion, particularly when kickable penalties are presented.
BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland;. T.McGann, S.Layden (captain), C.Reid, D.Corbett; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins; H.O’Reilly, D.Browne, M.Staunton; G.Caterino, T.Rensford; S.O’Connell, E.Galvin and C.Maulaulau. Replacements:- R.Byrne (for Caterino, 4 mins), G.Caterino (for Byrne, 45 mins), M.Murphy (for O’Reilly, 50 mins), R.Grenham (for Browne, 50 mins), E.O’Reilly (for McGann, 60 mins) and G.Fallon.
QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY:- M.Orr; E. Vale Falemaka, R.Bell, R.Johnston, Connor McKee; R.McMaster, Conor McKee; A.Lupari, D.Swann, T.Linton; J.McCay, J.Longwell; A.McGrath, C.Pollock and D.Whitten (captain). Replacements:- S.McMaster (for Bell, h/t), B.Pentland (for Swann, 60 mins), R.Gibson (for Linton, 60 mins), N.Woods (for Longwell, 60 mins) and M.Millar (for Lupari, 70 mins).
Referee:- Andrew Cole (IRFU).