Lansdowne kicked off their 2017-18 Ulster Bank-sponsored All Ireland League campaign with a tricky away fixture against newly-promoted Buccaneers, a club with strong links to the Connacht squad and Academy.
Rain arrived on cue for the kick-off, and a persistent drizzle lasted throughout the game. The Dubarry Park pitch was in excellent condition, however, although a greasy ball made handling difficult for both sides and led to many handling errors on both sides.
The challenging conditions did not dampen the enthusiasm or the whole-hearted efforts of both teams. Ultimately, however, this was a match that, while it spluttered and fused at times,
in the end failed to ignite, mainly due to the testing handling conditions. Lansdowne opened brightly, with several good carries by the backs, in particular left-wing Foster Horan and centre and Irish international Sevens’ player Ian Fitzpatrick. The visitor’s early pressure did not result in any points, and the first chance of the match fell to the Pirate’s out half, Alan Gaughan, whose penalty effort from 40 meters fell just short.
Former Lansdowne No. 8 and Irish Under 20 captain from last season, Paul Boyle, now a member of the Connacht Academy, lined out for the Buccs and had a fine match for his new club. He made a telling thrust after 8 minutes which set up the home side’s first attacking opportunity, but Lansdowne made their scrum strength tell in winning a penalty and the pressure was repulsed.
Lansdowne were awarded a penalty after 17 minutes for obstruction, and out half Scott Deasy made no mistake with the chance from 26 metres out and Lansdowne were 3-0 to the good. Buccaneers attacked again, and Deasy’s relieving touch kick was blocked down behind the line and a 5 metre scrum conceded. The ball was turned over following several thrusts by the home pack, and full back Eamonn Mills relieved the pressure with one of several lengthy clearances.
Buccaneers broke through the Lansdowne defence in the 28 th minute, but Foster Horan won the chase to touch down the subsequent kick through and again the pressure was relieved. Buccs were playing their way into the match, however, and Lansdowne coughed up 6 penalties in the first half-an- hour as they came under pressure from the lively home forwards. Indeed, a penalty count of 8-3 against the Headquarters club was a telling story of the first half action, with Gaughan guilty of a missed opportunity from the tee that, in the conditions, represented a significant let-off for Coach Mike Ruddock’s side.
Whatever words Coach Ruddock spoke during the half time interval, Lansdowne emerged a revitalised side after the break. Despite the introduction of another former Lansdowne and now Connacht player, scrum half Conor McKeon after 41 minutes, Lansdowne forced three penalties within the same number of minutes of the restart, with a good effort from Scott Deasy falling just short of the cross bar from the last of them. Lansdowne had established early territorial dominance, however, and the pack began to get on top. A further penalty was put into touch and the ball was moved wide, but again the conditions made execution difficult. Buccs had strayed off side, however, and Deasy was again sure footed in slotting the subsequent penalty from in from after 49 minutes to establish a 6-0 lead.
No sooner had the game restarted than the home side brought the margin back to 3 points through a stunning drop goal form full back, Luke Carty, younger brother of Connacht out half Jack, from over 45 metres out and only a few in from the touch line. This raised the home supporters, and the game sparked into its best phase as both teams responded. New boys Sean Coughlan (centre) and Charlie Rock (scrum half) came on for Lansdowne after 50 minutes, and Rock made an immediate impact when he pounced on a blocked kick to score the first try of the match three minutes later. Deasy added the extras with another well-struck conversion for a 13-3 lead.
Conor McKeown made his entry after 53 minutes, and matched Rock’s effort by scoring under the posts three minutes later for a try converted by Gaughan, and suddenly the gap was narrowed to three points again, 13-10.
A third former Lansdowne player – hooker Shane Delahunt – made his entry, as did Tinga Mpiko at prop for Adam Boland. Delahunt’s stay was brief, however, as he was yellow carded for an incident after 58 minutes.
Lansdowne used Delahunt’s absence to seize the initiative up front, and two further Deasy penalties after 66 and 72 minutes put some daylight between the sides at 19-10. A late scare nearly led to a try for Buccaneers as a defensive mix up left winger Rory O’Connor free with the line at his merch. He failed to control his kick ahead, and the ball went dead before his despairing dive.
A measure of Lansdowne’s growing control of the match was the turn-around penalty count of 3-8 against in the first half to 10-3 for in the second, with the front row prominent in inflicting damage on the opposition. So a solid performance under difficult conditions and a winning start for delighted new President Michael Cassidy. It was great, too, to see Geoff Dawson there, home from storm-wrecked Heuston for a holiday break.
Former Buccaneers and now Lansdowne men Justin Meagher and Aaron Conneely were also there – Aaron will be back on the pitch in a few weeks after injury – and sure wasn’t Buccs new forwards coach Mick McCarthy associated with Lansdowne during his Leinster playing days, even if he never got to play with us.
Further links between the two clubs are Charlie McMickan, whose dad is Chairman of Buccs and, of course, second row Josh O’Rourke, who had a good game against his former clubmates. A proud representation of the family that is Irish rugby!
Match Report: Michel Daly
Ulster Bank All Ireland League, Season 2017~2018
Round 1: Buccaneers RFC v. Lansdowne FC
Dubarry Park, Athlone Saturday 16 th September 2017: 2:30pm kick off
Referee: Eddie Hogan O’Connell