BUCCS U-20’s WIN LEINSTER LEAGUE TITLE
Report by Niall Quinn
NAAS 20 BUCCANEERS 24
BUCCANEERS U-20’s captured a first ever Leinster title when they defeated Naas 24-20 in a keenly contested J.P.Fanagan Leinster Premier 3 Division encounter at Forenaughts, Naas, on Sunday. Victory over their closest challengers ensured that the Pirates were champions with one round of this league yet to be played.
On a wet and windy afternoon at 5.15 pm, 135 minutes after their top of the table game started and 8 months into their league campaign, the young Pirates became league Champions. In a similar fashion to the Ireland win in Twickenham 24 hours earlier these young heroes secured a 4 try bonus point win on the road but, unlike the great Irish senior players, the Pirates came from being 3 points behind to win the game and league at the death with a grandstand finish. With the title in the balance between two ferociously competitive teams the referee announced 2 minutes to go, Lorcan Fallon made a very fast and determined 50-yard metre break to set up Cian McCann on the wing to score in the corner to win the game and this Leinster U20’s league. Ruaidhri Fallon nailed the conversion and Buccs won a dramatic event filled game 24-20.
Earlier in this epic encounter following great play from David Colgan, Lasha Laoshvilli got the game’s first try from a pick and go with Ruadhri Fallon converting putting Buccs 7-0 up at half time. Despite Buccaneers scrum and lineout dominating all day, next to score was Oscar Cauley for Naas with Shane Penrose converting under the posts 7-7. Then the unstoppable Kieran Egan powered over for the first Buccs try of the second half. Buccs back in front 12-7 until Patrick O’Flaherty touched down with the Naas stars striking back with some fine play from former Newbridge College boys to score under the posts. Naas were building momentum now in the home straight and looked like taking control of the game following a Penrose penalty that pushed them 17-12 ahead.
But even down by 5 points, inspirational sounds could be heard from the Buccs players’ huddle behind their own post, the mantra was “stick to our plan and we will win, lads” even against a gale force wind and a slope in the second half. These players never stopped believing in themselves and the young Pirates started building phase after phase with powerful forwards Aaron Burke, Koronata Kiripati, Cian Malone, Joe Henderson, Luke Balsinger, Fionn McDonald, Evan Gallagher and Cameron Brill all gaining yards with strong disruptive runs into the Naas defensive lines. On the 12th phase of possession the talented opportunist Cian McCann makes it 17-17, getting his first try of the afternoon from a close range surging drive. Buccs were back in the game and a draw would have been enough to secure league glory. But neither team were going to settle for a draw. From the next kick off the referee gave a penalty to Naas and Penrose maintained his 100% record as he slotted it over to great jubilation from the home supporters who now believed 20-17 should be enough to see off the challenge from the Athlone men.
It was a Deja Vu moment for Buccs under their own posts again in the huddle as captain Tom Shine rallied his troops to give it one final push and stick to the plan with news filtering through from Corinthians to the exhausted U-20’s warriors that the Buccs Women had beaten OLBC and got into a first ever cup final. More morale boosting news was coming from Creggs that the Juniors had created an upset. The lads left their huddle determined to make it a hat trick of wins on the day for adult Buccaneers teams. The talented Orrin Burgess won the kick-off and gained territory for a ruck to be formed in the centre of the pitch where the excellent Luke Duane fed his halfback partner Fallon who off loaded to the light-footed forward Lorcan Fallon. With power, pace and elegance he started breaking tackle after tackle until he was at top speed racing for the corner with his entire team chasing him in support as the covering Naas full back David O’Sullivan was coming to meet him. He perfectly offloaded to his fellow lock, a sprinting McCann who dived over the try line to score in the corner. Buccs were back in front and up stood Ruaidhri Fallon with ice cool composure to convert from the touchline to edge Buccs ahead 24-20. Ben Daly dealt with the high ball restart and passed to Mark Glynn, both of whom were comfortable all day dealing with everything the home backline had to offer in attack as the midlanders saw off the challenge of the Co. Kildare club in a game that was officiated excellently by referee Jason Le Lievre.
This team filled with champions and game changing heroes have maintained a deep belief and respect in sticking to their head coach Martin Staunton’s gameplans both sides of the ball. After the game the Buccaneers players were commended for their discipline and athleticism by all the rugby fans present who had witnessed such an epic historic league title winning encounter. The New Zealander referee remarked how well drilled and clinical the league champions were all day. It was a glorious sight to see the Buccaneers players being congratulated by their young opponents from Naas who were gracious in defeat, saying ” ye Buccaneers lads were the best team in the league not only on the scoreboard but in pace, power and discipline”. The shape and intensity and passion for U-20’s rugby this squad has brought to this Leinster league has set a sky-high standard in every pitch in the country these players have graced.
Such was the quality of entertainment in the game the league champions celebrations were joined by the big crowd in attendance including Naas supporters present who offered their sincere congratulations, along with hugs and embraces from delighted family and friends with joyous parents remarking how U-20’s rugby is the culmination of their young sons rugby career so far since starting out with the fun and joy of chasing an oval ball as youngsters in their local club. As the realisation of their sons’ historic achievement sunk in Mums & Dads were seen ringing and texting former minis, youths and schools rugby coaches with thanks and real appreciation for all the years of stewardship and mentoring their sons have received from their rugby community.
The true spirit of rugby is deep, strong and very contagious in this group of young players who have come together in Athlone from all over Ireland to play against the top rugby clubs in the country where they can showcase their skillset with honour and pride. This young history-making squad has won the rugby hearts and admiration of all who have had the privilege of witnessing them in full flight, whether their fans gathered to witness them at a fully attended training session on a Friday night in Dubarry Park or at various rugby grounds these players have never failed to impress their supporters.
Buccs U-20’s management have been busy all season goal setting for this group. Now the first milestone has been achieved of Leinster league domination and glory, these undefeated in Leinster starlets have set their sights on Ulster to play for the Scallon Cup in Enniskillen RFC on Saturday next. The feeling amongst the players and management is that the best is yet to come with the Harry Gale Cup campaign starting in April and a final league game away to NUIG. This proper U-20’s rugby academy of winners are looking forward to seeing all their home supporters enjoy their winning style of rugby at their next home game on April 2nd.
NAAS:- D.O’Sullivan; B.Noone, S.Farrell, J.Shanahan, A.Murphy; S.Penrose, O.Cawley; J.Downey, B.Redmond, C.Early; J.Murphy, P.McMahon; D.Walsh, U.Casserly and N.Smith. Replacements:- J.McKeon, P.O’Flaherty, C.Halpenny and M.O’Siochru.
BUCCANEERS:- B.Daly; D.Colgan, T.Shine (captain), M.Byrne, O.Burgess; R.Fallon, L.Duane; L.Loashvilli, E.Gallagher, K.Egan; F.McDonnell, C.McCann; D.Fitzgerald, K.Kiripati and L.Balsiger. Replacements:- C.Brill, C.Malone, A.Burke, J.Henson, L.Fallon, M.Glynn and D.King.
Referee:- Jason Le Lievre.