BUCCANEERS strengthened their grip at the top of the Ulster Bank League Division 1B with a 36-14 bonus point victory over Old Wesley at bright but bitterly cold Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday evening.
Despite a growing list of absentees, Buccs set the tempo from the start and utterly dominated the opening half although playing against the biting breeze. With closest challengers UL Bohemian and Ballynahinch both suffering surprise defeats, the Pirates extended their lead at the top of the table to eleven points with just six matches remaining while Old Wesley have slipped to sixth place.
With Eoghan O’Reilly and Shane O’Leary now joining Buccaneers injury list, Rory O’Connor and Alex Hayman returned in the home backline. Saba Meunargia was absent due to a family bereavement so Rory Grenham came in at loosehead prop with Martin Staunton switching to tighthead. Danny Qualter was available to slot in in the second row. Old Wesley had a fairly settled side that included ex-Buccs Adam Kennedy, David Henshaw and Tim Clifford while a fourth, Paul Harte, was a late omission due to injury.
Apart from the cold wind, conditions were near perfect as the Athlone outfit took the game to their opponents from the kick-off and enjoyed such huge amounts of early territory and possession that it was a surprise they took 16 minutes to open their account. A terrific maul by the Pirates pack was finished off by John Sutton with Alan Gaughan adding the conversion from the right. As the home pressure continued, Iain McGann was sin-binned for deliberately knocking the ball on in front of his own posts and Gaughan added further punishment with the straight forward 21st minute penalty kick.
Another penalty after 25 minutes was punted to touch on the left and, after good possession was claimed from the lineout, the Buccs pack drove forward impressively before Jordan Conroy was unleashed and he scooted in for a try near the uprights. Three minutes later the flying winger was dotting down on the left for his second try of the game after taking a pass from Shane Layden and chipping Rory Stynes whilst also not losing any momentum from the fullback’s attempted block.
Buccaneers, however, were sloppy at the restart when (just as had happened against Galwegians) they let a ball bounce and Darren Horan swooped for an opportunist 30th minute try which Clifford converted. Visiting captain Horan was injured in this move and was replaced by Michael Dunleavy. In the final move of the half, the midlanders put some splendid phases together only to knock on at the Old Wesley line but were full value for their 22-7 half-time advantage.
It took the Pirates less than two minutes following the change of ends to stretch their lead and secure a bonus point, with Callum Boland fastening onto Gaughan’s deft grubber for their fourth try with the fly-half tapping over the conversion. Five minutes later further enterprising play looked like being finished by Simon Meagher but the young lock was stopped just short. However, Buccs kept the move going and the ball was shifted smartly to the left where Conroy completed his hat-trick of tries. Gaughan added a terrific conversion to put the Shannonsiders 36-7 to the good.
With the outcome now not in any doubt, both sides utilised their benches and play became somewhat disjointed and scrappy. Old Wesley’s Will Potterton saw yellow for coming in from the side but, nevertheless, it was the metropolitans who scored whilst temporarily depleted with McGann diving over spectacularly for a 65th minute try converted by former Bucc Clifford. Surprisingly, this proved the final score of the contest with home substitute Ryan O’Meara being a late visitor to the sin bin.
Rory Moloney put in a massive amount of work to claim the AUDI ATHLONE man of the match accolade, shading Conroy who now has 13 AIL tries to his credit this season. Qualter, Gaughan and young Frankie Hopkins also made telling contributions as Buccs earned a significant win despite their resources being stretched. The only disappointing note for the homesters was the sparse attendance, obviously due to the daft scheduling of club fixtures by the IRFU on Six Nations matchdays.
BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland; R.O’Connor, S.Layden, A.Hayman, J.Conroy; A.Gaughan, F.Hopkins; R.Grenham, J.Sutton, M.Staunton; S.Meagher, D.Qualter; S.McVeigh, R.Moloney and K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements:- E.Galvin (for Kiripati, inj. 42 mins), D.Keane (for Layden, 58 mins), E.Maher (for Sutton, 66 mins), R.O’Meara (for Grenham, 71 mins) and H.Hughes (for Conroy, 74 mins).
OLD WESLEY:- R.Stynes; A.Jeffares, D.Poff, A.Kennedy, W.Potterton; T.Clifford, A.Griggs; D.Henshaw, D.Rowley, J.Burton; D.Phelan, I.McGann; D.Horan (captain), S.Boyle and M.Rowley. Replacements:- M.Dunleavy (for Horan, inj. 30 mins), M.Bursey (for Boyle, h/t), M.Gately (for Henshaw, h/t), J.Maybury (for Griggs, 50 mins), C.Maguire for J.Burton, 50 mins) and M.Dunleavy (for Boyle, temp. 27/31 mins).
Referee:- Robert O’Sullivan (IRFU).