Buccaneers extended their winning run to seven games when they overcame a very dogged and determined Galwegians / Oughterard side in the JP Fanagan Leinster U-20 League Premier 2 Division at Crowley Park in Galway on Sunday. The Galway amalgamated outfit have been impressive to date and Buccaneers were very aware that all bets are off when these two provincial rivals meet at any level. It meant for a nervous and sloppy encounter and whilst Buccaneers were the superior team across the park, they were guilty of very poor execution at critical times.
The starting pack saw two changes from the previous week, with Jack Scouler shifting to the back row in place of the absent Mathias O’Neill whilst Mark Tallon returned from illness to resume his second-row partnership with Fergus Galvin. The backline however showed a number of changes with Leo McFarlane making his 20’s debut at scrum-half and Ruan Venter switching to centre after David McNamara was forced to retire following an injury in the warm up. Harry Ballsiger filled in at full back with Cameron Rooney-Digan starting for the absent Dara Mulvihill on the wing. Bradley Nealon also made his first club start in place of the injured Daniel Ennis. Versatile scrum half Nathan Horan moved to the bench. With so many changes to the backline, some of them enforced due to injury, it was perhaps not a complete surprise that the events that followed, particularly in the first half were so incoherent and error strewn.
Weather conditions were perfect for rugby in a cold but sunny Crowley Park where a good crowd gathered. Buccaneers reserved their worst quarter of rugby this season, when conceding 10 unanswered points and it should have been more. Poor discipline led to 3 consecutive penalty awards in front of the posts with the hosts only managing to take 3 points. Oisin Kieran then incurred the wrath of the referee with a yellow card for talking to the match official – it was harsh, but you don’t talk to referees and Kiernan can have no complaints. Out-Half Mikey Byrne was having a bad day with a number of handling and kicking errors, and it got worse on 30 minutes when an attempted clearance was blocked down and the homesters romped in under the posts for a converted try. Buccaneers were now 10 points down, playing very poorly, and out of sorts.
But this group have shown time and time again that they have real leaders and having consigned the first 30 minutes to history, they regrouped. Jensen Nagle was introduced in place of Venter on the half hour mark and on 35 minutes, following a series of pick and go’s, Galvin broke the cover and he was not going to be stopped for the opening try for Buccaneers. Stephen Mannion narrowly missed the conversion but the Pirates were adrift only 10-5. Buccaneers secured possession from the restart and smartly worked some early phases. Mannion then decided to strike, and taking the ball of a well worked move, darted from the half way line and with real pace and swerve, got held up a metre from the try line. Buccs kept calm and went through their forwards with multiple phases. Finally, as he has been doing all season, Darren Browne powered over from close range for his fourth try in 2020. Again, Mannion was narrowly off cue with the conversion, and the sides went into the half time break level on 10 points apiece.
Buccaneers again started poorly, and conceded a silly penalty after 3 minutes which the home team scored. But from that point onwards, the Athlone side were the dominant force and delivered a perfect and immediate response to that early set back when Mannion, who was the best back on show, took a great running line and darted through the home defence to score under the posts. This time Mannion nailed the easy conversion.
Galwegians / Oughterard were now playing catch-up and the final 30 minutes of the game was a very scrappy affair. Goncalo Catarino, Lasha Laoshvilli and Nathan Horan were all introduced and steadied proceedings. Rooney-Digan and the Galwegians / Oughterard Number 8 got involved in a fracas and the referee issued two yellow cards. With 15 minutes left on the clock Buccs won a penalty in front of the posts and Mannion rightly took the points to give the visitors a seven points lead. Buccaneers were in full control of possession, but time and time again just could not finish the move. McFarlane decided to opt for a cross kick during one period of sustained possession, and the opportunity was lost, when holding on to possession and working the ball through the phases was clearly the required call. On 80 minutes, Buccaneers got another penalty in front of the posts; and with the prospect of a try bonus point, the team decision was to go for touch. Lineout was secured, and several phases worked, only for Laoshvilli to spill the ball when scoring the bonus point try was a step away. In a frantic 5 minutes of stoppage time, the visitors broke into the midlanders 22 for the first time, and a massive defensive effort secured the turnover when a try looked like the outcome. Mannion kicked to touch with Buccaneers now very content to leave Glenina with the win, minus the try bonus point.
It is always very difficult in this provincial derby, and Buccaneers were worthy winners on balance of play. It was however a very frustrating performance with the backline all out of sorts and errors compounding errors. It was a real lesson for these young backs and Byrne, McFarlane, Ballsiger and Rooney-Digan will have better days. Mannion was superb in open play and despite a rare bad kicking day, was the best back on display and he must be got on the ball more often. In the pack, as has been the case all season, Harry O’Reilly, Galvin and Browne were at their rampaging and dominant best, ably supported by Tallon and Scouler who both continue to grow at this level. The Buccaneers set piece at lineout and scrum provided clean ball all day, and again the backline will be studying the footage of this game to determine how to convert that possession into scores.
Next up are league leaders St Mary’s College who opened up a 6-point lead at the weekend courtesy of a thrashing dished out to Navan at Templeville Road. It is a massive challenge to reel in the Dublin stalwarts who are intent on taking league honours but a statement can and must be made in Dubarry Park on Sunday. Buccaneers have the forwards and the leadership in that pack to surprise the visitors but the game plan and execution, especially across the backline, must be perfect in what promises to be a season defining game for both clubs.
BUCCANEERS:- H Ballsiger; B Nealon, R Venter, S Mannion, C Rooney-Digan; M Byrne, L McFarlane; O Kiernan, D Browne (Captain), H O’Reilly; F Galvin, M Tallon; C O’Grady, J Scouler and L Winnett. Replacements:- L Laoshvilli, E Gallagher, A Kelly, G Catarino, N Horan, J Nagle, K Connolly and C Forkin.