Buccaneers can clinch the Division 1B League title when they take on Naas in an Ulster Bank League showdown at Dubarry Park on Saturday. This mouth-watering clash kicks off at 2.30 p.m. and should draw a bumper crowd to the Athlone venue. Buccs lead the table by 13 points with just three rounds of fixtures remaining, and two of these games are at home for the Pirates. Victory on Saturday would confirm that they win the league title and also gain promotion to the top flight. However, even though third placed Naas trail the midlanders by 17 points they are still very much in contention as they have a match in hand. So both teams have everything to play for and it should provide a cracking contest.
Naas gained promotion to Division 1B for the first time this season but the Co. Kildare club quickly adapted to life at this level. They have won nine matches to date and have a decent scoring difference of +56 in their favour which reflects the enterprising rugby they endeavour to play. They have some terrific backs orchestrated by wily and nimble duo Johne Murphy and Fionn Carr, the latter also having played for Buccs whilst he became Connacht’s all-time leading try scorer. Versatile back Peter Osborne, the only Division 1B player in the Ireland Clubs squad, is a top class placekicker and also a threat with ball in hand while Henry Bryce is a strong-running centre. Flanker Will O’Brien captains the visitors for whom prop Adam Coyle and No.8 Paulie Tolofua are key cogs in a lively pack. Buccs must curb their influence on supply and possession.
Buccaneers were very efficient in the first ever meeting between the sides last October. After soaking early pressure the midlanders struck for two tries at the end of the opening quarter to go 12-0 ahead. Naas had the greater dominance thereafter to edge into a 16-12 lead but the Pirates hit back in a thrilling finale, when they had a player in the sin bin, to grab a late brace of tries that earned them a bonus point and left Naas empty-handed.
Buccs are well capable of ensuring a greater share of territory and possession come Saturday. But they will need to be more clinical and cohesive than they were in a rare off-colour display at UCC where decision-making was below par. Focus and direction too will need to be improved; both can and surely will. Conor McKeon and Mata Fifita will have greatly benefited from that match as they had been out for some time due to injuries while Eoin Griffin is another back who will have prospered from further game time. Alan Gaughan could be fit to return so Head Coach Brett Wilkinson will have options and permutations to consider in this sector.
In the forwards exchanges John Sutton could come up against his former Naas teammates although Shane Delahunt will also be a strong contender to start at hooker for Buccs. Kolo Kiripati sustained a nasty ear injury in an accidental clash with fellow South Sea Islander Tolofua when the sides met earlier in the season and he will be hoping to have a less eventful outing on this occasion. Jamie Dever is another player who will have benefited from his recent matches as injury has ruled him out for quite some time while Rory Moloney is available following his recent red card against Dolphin. Danny Qualter, Stephen McVeigh and Martin Staunton have been highly consistent of late in the pack for the Pirates and they can provide key back-up to their skipper in this joust. Simon Meagher should also be in contention to start after the injury that ruled him out against UCC.
Naas have made rapid strides this season and are a real threat, but Buccaneers have been extremely consistent and enterprising for the majority of the season as their +166 scoring difference confirms. On home ground and in front of hordes of Pirates, destiny is in their own hands and feet. If they play with unrelenting but controlled aggression particularly at the breakdown, then Buccaneers desire and sheer will to win can lay the platform for match-winning scores.
Played Won Drew Lost Scoring Bonus Points Difference
Buccaneers 15 12 1 2 +166 8+1 59
UL Bohemian 15 10 0 5 +16 4+2 46
Naas 14 9 0 5 +56 4+2 42
Old Wesley 15 8 2 5 -4 4+2 42
PRE-MATCH FOR SATURDAY’S BIG MATCH
There will be a pre-match function with guest speaker in The Bounty for Buccs crunch encounter against Naas on Saturday where victory would ensure promotion for the Athlone club. Cost is €30 which covers 3-course meal with wine, 100 page programme and free admission to the big match. Former international referee David McHugh is the guest speaker. He is a witty raconteur who can also tell jokes against himself. Groups or individuals can be catered for. To book, please contact Geraldine 0861732711 or Pat Hynes 0876883833.
Buccaneers U-20’s J.P.Fanagan Leinster Premier 2 match against Naas was cancelled last weekend and is rescheduled for Sunday next in Dubarry Park. Kick off is 3 p.m. These young Buccs will be keen to maintain their 100% home record which would keep them in a clear second place on the league table.
Buccaneers womens team complete their Connacht Womens League campaign with a home fixture against Carrick-On-Shannon also in Dubarry Park on Sunday with a likely earlier kick-off. They face Tuam in the Connacht Cup final on Sunday week.
NUIG 32 BUCCANEERS 5
Leaders NUIG continued their impressive run in the Connacht Womens League when they defeated Buccaneers 32-5 at Dangan, Galway, on Sunday. On a sandy pitch but otherwise fine conditions, this was a really good contest that was closer than the scoreline suggests and Buccs, fielding what could be termed an ‘experimental’ side, will take great encouragement from their endeavours.
NUIG scored three tries in each half but some of these scores emanated from little errors that made the difference as the College outfit were sharper overall. Buccs, despite playing a number of players out of position, fronted up quite well with prop Katie Ryan acquitting herself well at flanker and lock Andrea Antonissen excelling on the wing while Tracy Finnerty took four balls against the head at scrumtime. Hazel Kilduff was the Pirates try scorer.
BUCCANEERS: S.Hennessy; J.Dowling, S.Egan, H.Kilduff, A.Antonissen; E.O’Brien, N.Gough; L.Flynn, T.Finnerty, S.Kelly; D.Cromar, G.Kostanyan; A.Kemmy, K.Ryan and L.Stuart-Trainor. Replacement:- N.Ni Dhroma.
EASTER RUGBY CAMP
Following the success of last year’s inaugural Easter Rugby Camp for boys and girls aged 6 to 13 years old, it will be held again this year at Dubarry Park from Tuesday, April 18th to Friday 21st during the school holidays. Qualified coaches will oversee this camp in which rugby skills will be coached in a fun and friendly environment. Contact Geraldine 0861732711 to book.
IRISH COLLEGES FINALS AT DUBARRY PARK ON WEDNESDAY
Athlone Institute of Technology won the bid to host the 2017 Student Sport Ireland/IRFU All Ireland Rugby finals. Supported by Buccaneers RFC, the finals will all be held at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on this Wednesday, March 22nd.
Athlone I.T. and I.T.Carlow have dominated the Mens Senior Division for the past number of years with Athlone contesting the past seven finals in succession, winning the most recent three. I.T.Carlow are there again this season but, unfortunately, a new force emerged from Garda College who overcame the holders to advance to Wednesday’s decider. This is the top match of the day, with the winners being presented with the Brendan Johnston Cup, and it kicks off at 7 p.m.
Five finals will be played on the day and Athlone I.T. have representation in the opening match at 2.30 p.m. when they face University of Limerick ‘B’ in the Womens Division 2 final with the victors also winning promotion. The Mens Division 3 final features UCC against Belfast Met at 3 p.m. and the Mens Division 2 decider between University of Limerick and I.T.Tallaght gets under way at 4.30 p.m. Completing a busy day’s action, NUI Galway square up to University of Limerick in the Womens Division 1 final at 5 p.m.