BUCCANEERS are home to Old Wesley in Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League at Dubarry Park tomorrow (Saturday) - and due to the Italy v Ireland match, the Buccs game has an unusual 4.30pm kick-off time.
Buccs have won nine and drawn one of their last ten matches and now lead this division by six points. They will be primed to maintain their momentum against Old Wesley whose inconsistent form has seem them slip to fifth in the league table, now 14 points adrift of the Pirates.
A late try by Shannon saw them edge out Old Wesley 26-22 at Donnybrook last Saturday while Buccaneers claimed a 25-14 win over Galwegians (see report in this week's Westmeath Independent). Buccs gave Old Wesley a 49-22 drubbing in November but with the Dubliners in real need of getting back in contention, the Pirates can expect a sterner test on this occasion.
The metropolitans squad features a handful of ex-Buccs in their panel with prop David Henshaw and fly-half Tim Clifford being regular starters. Winger Paul Harte and versatile back Adam Kennedy are generally in their match-day panel but Billy Henshaw and Conor FitzGibbon have not started of late. Back rowers Darren Horan and Mark Rowley are competitive forwards for the visitors while Isaac Leota and Ger Finucane form a strong centre pair. Full-back Rory Stynes and scrum-half Adam Griggs will pose danger if given space and Barry McLaughlin or Clifford can punish from placed balls.
Jordan Conroy got back to try-scoring ways at Galwegians (his previous touchdown was against Old Wesley) and he will be eager to continue that trend while Shane Layden must surely be near to nabbing a batch. Alan Gaughan’s influence on the proceedings could be crucial, including his mentoring of his young half-back partner Frankie Hopkins who is still learning about the pace and power at this level.
Luke Carty could be “cotton wooled” again by the Ireland U-20s but, hopefully, the powerful Mata Fifita will be fit to resume in the centre. Ruairi Byrne and Simon Meagher acquitted themselves well at Glenina and will be eager for the fray should Danny Qualter or Cian Romaine be absent again.
Kolo Kiripati was injured when the sides last met and he shipped a ‘stinger’ against Wegians but it will take more than that to stop the peerless evergreen No. 8 from playing this time. Stephen McVeigh is the Pirates other injury concern in their pack which should be able to line out the formidable front row trio Martin Staunton, John Sutton and Saba Meunargia who did so well in Donnybrook.
Assuming Buccaneers will be near to full strength, they should have the power and tempo to overcome Old Wesley.
Supporters are reminded that kick-off in Athlone is at the later time than usual of 4.30pm. And the club is encouraging fans to come along early to The Bounty to see if Ireland can get their Six Nations campaign back on track against Italy. Athlone's Robbie Henshaw has been selected at inside centre for the meeting with Italy, which starts at 2.25pm.