With Lansdowne’s home semi-final berth guaranteed and the Buccs fate already sealed – they revert to play in Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League next season – this match was, in many ways, a dead rubber.
All credit then, to both sides for serving up an entertaining and competitive spectacle on a warm and sunny afternoon where spectators in the East Stand were complaining of the heat!
Lansdowne continued their squad rotation policy and gave some key players – captain Ian Prendiville and out half Scott Deasy, in particular – an opportunity to recharge their batteries and let any old, niggling injuries settle.
Not that you would have thought Lansdowne weren’t fielding a full-strength side – Tom Daly, having recovered from a pre-season injury played in the centre, with returning Sevens international Ian Fitzpatrick at full back for Eamonn Mills and Peter Dooley lining out at loose head.
One could only feel sorry for poor Conor Fenlon – picked for his first start on the Senior XV, only to be forced to cry off before the kick off. Mind you, his replacement, Aaron Conneely wasn’t a half-bad fall-back choice for the League-toppers.
Lansdowne started off like a train – an early penalty put into touch in the second minute; a forward surge and the ball popped to lively hooker Adam Boland who crossed beside the posts for a neatly-worked try. “Doc” Conor Murphy – a Swedish international at both Sevens and 15-a side, no less (his mother hails from Scandinavia) converted for an early 7-0 lead.
Buccaneers took this setback in their stride and proceeded to set up camp in the Lansdowne ’22 for most of the rest of the half. Their robust efforts, led by former Lansdowne men Paul Boyle at No. 8 and Conor McKeon at 9, went largely unrewarded as their error-count went off the chart and offered regular relief to the Lansdowne defenders.
Only in the scrum were Lansdowne dominant and this control led to a second try for the Headquarters side after 26 minutes, Boland again the scorer as he burrowed over from a line-out maul. A recent convert from tight head to hooker, Teddy’s line-out work was good and his contribution around the pitch was, as always, outstanding.
Conor Murphy again did the needful and showed no fears in standing in for the great Scott Deasy. His general play was good, and his tackling was exemplary. Let’s hope his medical duties keep him in Dublin and available to the Club in the coming seasons.
Virtually confined to their own half, Lansdowne’s two raids into the Pirate’s territory had yielded two converted tries. The visitors finally got on the board just before half time when McKeon kicked a penalty to leave the score 14-3 at the break.
Wingers Adam Leavy and Foster Horan, in particular, were looking lively on limited ball and Fitzpatrick and centre Mark O’Keeffe played well. Tom Daly, probably on Leinster instructions, didn’t reappear for the second half but he gained some valuable playing time in preparation for greater tests to come.
Lansdowne, indeed, rang further changes quite early in the half and Charlie McMickan (whose Dad is Director of Rugby with Buccaneers!), came on at out half with Murphy shifting to centre. Hooker James Rael, making a welcome return, prop Martin Mulhall and Conall O’Brien for Conneely all came on in the pack.
Before this, however, Foster Horan had made two characteristic surges through the Buccaneers defence – his strength and power in keeping his feet and earning extra yards is a joy to behold. He was instrumental in the winning of a penalty after 43 minutes that saw a line-out maul set up deep in the Buccs ’22. Always-alert scrum half Alan Bennie was on hand to cross for the home side’s third try and the lead had stretched to 19-3. McMickan struck a nice conversion from wide out and it was 21-3 after 46 minutes.
Buccaneers tale of woeful errors continued, and they were called back from a try-scoring position for a forward pass on 48 minutes. Lansdowne struck back, and several good phases, with Horan again prominent, brought play deep into the Buccs ’22. Bennie sniped again and crossed for his second, and his side’s fourth, try in the 51st minute. This was Bennie’s ninth try of the campaign where he has largely shared the scrum-half duties with Charlie Rock.
26-3 ahead approaching the hour and the bonus point in the bag, Lansdowne visibly relaxed, with the job seemingly done. Buccaneers didn’t co-operate, however, and did their best to be party poopers by taking the game to the home side. Ex-Buccaneer second row Josh O’Rourke was yellow-carded following a series of conceded penalties as the visitors tried to exploit their numerical advantage.
The visitors sought to raise their game but were again frustrated by weak handling. With the game fizzing out, the pirates finally got their plays together and winger Darragh Corbett showed good pace down the right to cross for a 5-pointer which McKeon converted to reduce the margin to 26-10 with a minute of regular time to play.
There was still time for another Buccs try, this time scored and converted by McKeown following good work by out half Alan Gaughan to leave a final score line of 26-17, which put a better reflection on a match where the visitors dominated territorially but were singularly unable to turn pitch advantage and ample possession into points.
So, a done deal and Lansdowne advance to play Garryowen in the semi-final on Saturday the 28th of April on the Aviva main pitch.
Having finished 10 points clear of second-placed Terenure in the League table, recording a League record 16 wins and 71 points since the present 10-team, home and away format was introduced in the 2011-12 season, Lansdowne are well placed entering the play-offs. They also were the only team to score over 500 points (515) and to concede less than 300 (272), with their points differential of +242 also a League record.
All this, of course, counts for nothing entering the knock-out phase of the competition and we are, in effect, starting with a blank slate. What will be crucial in two weeks’ time (and, hopefully, in three weeks’ time, as well!) will be the support the team receives from you, the Lansdowne supporters.
This is a great Lansdowne squad! Please come out and support the team and coaches Mike Ruddock and Mark McHugh – starting with the All Ireland Bateman Cup final away against Cork Con next Saturday. This is a trophy we last won in 1931 – it’s time to bring it home – hopefully to be joined by its more recent sibling, the AIL Trophy, in a few weeks’ time!
Match Report: Michael Daly
P.S. Congratulations to the J1’s and the Under 17’s in winning their respective Leagues – the future of the Club is in good hands!
Ulster Bank Division 1A 2017-18 Season LANSDOWNE 26 BUCCANEERS 17
Venue: Aviva Stadium main pitch
Lansdowne: Tries: Adam Boland 2, Alan Bennie 2; Cons: Conor Murphy 2, Charlie McMickan 1.
Buccaneers: Tries: Conor McKeon, Darragh Corbett; Cons: Conor McKeon 2; Pen: Conor McKeon 1.
HT: Lansdowne 14 Buccaneers 3
LANSDOWNE: Ian Fitzpatrick; Foster Horan, Mark O’Keeffe, Tom Daly, Adam Leavy; Conor Murphy, Alan Bennie; Peter Dooley, Adam Boland, Greg McGrath, Josh O’Rourke, Oisin Dowling, Barry Fitzpatrick, Aaron Conneely, Willie Earle (capt.).
Replacements: Martin Mulhall, James Rael, Conall O’Brien, Gareth Molloy, Charlie McMickan.
BUCCANEERS: Luke Carty; Darragh Corbett, Callum Boland, Ben Carty, Jordan Conroy; Alan Gaughan (capt.), Conor McKeon; Martin Staunton, John Sutton, Conan O’Donnell, Simon Meagher, Dan Law, Cian Romaine, Evan Galvin, Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Rory Grenham, Conor Kenny, Ruairi Byrne, Graham Lynch, Frankie Hopkins.