Ruairi Byrne soars highest to win this lineout for Buccaneers against Queen's University when the sides met last month.

Buccs host Queen’s in contest which could define season

Buccaneers face what could be a season defining fixture today (Saturday) when they host leaders Queen’s University at Dubarry Park as the Energia All-Ireland League resumes following the festive break.

High-scoring Queen’s have been the pacesetters since the commencement of the campaign, losing just one game to date to Cashel. In their final outing of 2021, the Ulster side defeated Buccs 32-15 in Belfast but the Pirates were very much in that game until two late scores ensured victory for the Students. College No.8 Gary Dillon was the star performer on that occasion and Buccaneers must curb his influence in the rematch.

David Whitten is another key operator in the Queen’s pack while Michael Orr, Robbie Johnston and Richie McMaster are a threat in their backs unit. That win opened up a nine points gap at the top of the league table while defeat meant the Athlone side slipped to fourth.

A number of errors cost Buccaneers dearly at Dub Lane but otherwise the midlanders lasted the pace, caused Queen’s lots of problems and could have edged a fast-flowing encounter had they taken the chances they created, particularly early on. Encouragingly, Buccs had a decent workout when winning away to Corinthians last Saturday, when their main concern was an injury sustained by Stephen Mannion. His availability and that of Tabo Maree, who made a late appearance in Belfast, could be crucial for the Pirates.

Hopefully, Buccs will have some of their Academy players available from Connacht; surely the province would relish a club competing in Division One? If Buccaneers are close to full strength, play to their potential and ability, they can reverse the result from last month’s meeting.

A home win would not only benefit the Shannonsiders but also the other contenders in Division 2A. An enthralling and lively contest is in prospect in which big home support could prove crucial so let’s see a large crowd in Dubarry Park for what could be the game of the season. Kick-off is 2.30pm.

Other fixtures

Connacht Rugby has prioritised League fixtures over Cup matches at the moment so Buccaneers' Seconds Junior Cup tie at home to Dunmore on Sunday has been deferred. Instead, this Buccs team will now make the short journey across the county bounds to The Green where they will square up to Creggs in an intriguing Connacht Junior 1A League game.

Both clubs are doing well in this division with Creggs just behind leaders Connemara and Buccs lying in third place. Both have game(s) in hand on the pacesetters. This Buccs outfit has been performing well to date and victory could see them leapfrog their hosts in the league table.

There is a rich blend of burgeoning youth and seasoned campaigners in this Pirates crew skippered by Brian McDonnell. Andrew Evans, Thomas Shine, Eoin O’Carroll, Lasha Laoshvilli and Sam Kroupa are players for the future while Niall Harney, Trevor Thompson, Gerard Fallon, Ross Flanagan and Rory Grenham add experience and guile. Graham Lynch can be the key link between backs and forwards.

If Buccs jell nicely then they can overcome Creggs on their impressive 4G surface. Kick-off tomorrow (Sunday) is 2.30pm.

Buccaneers women's team are also in action on Sunday when they face Our Lady’s Boys Club in the Connacht Women's League at Dubarry Park. This will be a tough test for a relatively inexperienced Buccs side as OLBC are topping the league table. Kick-off is 1pm.

Finally, Queen’s University are bringing a second squad to Athlone today (Saturday) for a friendly encounter with Buccaneers U-20s before the big AIL match.

- Michael Silke