The 15th and final round of matches in AIB League Division Two took place on Saturday, with Buccaneers and Young Munster securing promotion, UCC and Belfast Harlequins joining them in the semi-finals and Suttonians and Barnhall being relegated.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION TWO: Saturday, March 29
BUCCANEERS 22 DUBLIN UNIVERSITY 3, Dubarry Park
Scorers: Buccaneers: Tries: Paul Harte 2, Alex Hayman, Garreth Halligan; Con: Alan Gaughan
Dublin University: Pen: Johnny Watt
Buccaneers secured promotion back to AIB League Division One at the first attempt by beating Dublin University at a rain-lashed Dubarry Park in Athlone.
This was Buccs’ seventh league win in a row and tops off a fantastic finish to the league’s regulation phase for the side coached by club stalwarts Tony Dolan and Jude Lennon.
Buccs, who had no Connacht front-liners available to them, had first use of the elements and notched an early Alex Hayman try, converted by Alan Gaughan.
Mark Bruce took a quick tap in midfield after the students had infringed at a lineout and moments later, centre Hayman was surging through for a ninth-minute score.
But Trinity dug deep and, allayed to the conditions, made life very difficult for the midlanders who led 7-0 at half-time.
The visitors lost full-back Paul Gillespie through injury after 31 minutes and then had lock John Byrne yellow carded on 36 minutes for punching.
Nonetheless, it was the students who came closest to scoring in the final minute of the first half. Their captain Joey Burns broke on the blindside to set Conor Donohoe off but Garreth Halligan got back to put in a try-saving tackle.
And when the sun eventually shone, Buccaneers rose to the challenge and replacement winger Paul Harte notched two tries in three minutes to really turn on the style.
Adrian Hanley instigated the move that set up fellow replacement Harte’s first try on the left after 54 minutes before Trevor Conneely and Hanley again showed quick hands to set the winger on his way for the second touchdown.
Both were scored wide on the left and Gaughan was short with both conversion attempts. However, victory was now surely assured with Buccs 17-0 to the good.
Man-of-the-match Garreth Halligan did particularly well to secure Buccs’ fourth and vital bonus point try, which means they pip Young Munster to top the table.
Right winger Gaughan deftly chipped ahead along the stand touchline and bravely retained possession. Hayman and Niall O’Hara were quickly up in support as the ball was smartly transferred infield to Halligan close to the visitors’ 22.
The hooker showed wonderful reservoirs of strength to withstand three attempted tackles and he managed to successfully juggle the greasy ball before scampering away for a well-taken 61st-minute try.
The battling students got scant reward for their endeavours apart from a late Johnny Watt penalty.
But, for Buccs, who lay in eighth position in mid-January, it was a great finish to a campaign that saw them secure no less than nine bonus points.
They receive the Union plaque for finishing top of the table and will head into the play-offs with renewed confidence.
OLD CRESCENT 10 YOUNG MUNSTER 14, Rosbrien
Scorers: Old Crescent: Try: Penalty try; Con: Brian Begley; Pen: Brian Begley
Young Munster: Try: Kieran Gallagher; Pens: Mark Connolly 2; Drop: Matt Costelloe
Young Munster claimed their seventh win in nine AIB League meetings with their Limerick rivals Old Crescent on Saturday, in a game that strangely saw both sides celebrating at the final whistle.
The Cookies got the victory they needed to seal promotion back to the top flight after six seasons in Division Two.
While Old Crescent’s losing bonus point saw them avoid relegation to Division three, although other results meant they did not actually need that point.
In front of a large crowd, Crescent had the better of the first half with the wind behind them. Brian Begley missed a first-minute penalty though and he was also wide of the mark in the ninth-minute.
Territorially, the home side were on top but they let Munsters off the hook again when Begley missed his third penalty chance.
After Young Munster flanker Kieran Gallagher was sin-binned in the 22nd-minute, Crescent belatedly opened the scoring with a penalty try after their scrum heaped pressure on the visitors’ pack.
Munsters had a good spell of possession before the interval and after they had twice been turned over in the Crescent 22, they had to settle for a 37th-minute penalty strike from Mark Connolly.
The Munsters full-back missed a lengthy penalty attempt, seven minutes into the second half, but a yellow card for Crescent flanker Sean Barry helped the visitors’ pack take control.
Out-half Matt Costelloe succeeded with a quickly taken drop goal, with a penalty advantage in his side’s favour, as he cut the gap to 7-6.
The Cookies turned the screw during the next phase as Crescent captain James Cullinane was sin-binned. They kicked the penalty to touch, Shane O’Neill won the lineout and his team-mates worked possession into a cohesive drive before Gallagher crashed over the try line.
Connolly missed the conversion and Crescent ensured a tense closing period when their number 15 Begley flicked a penalty over off the post for an 11-10 score-line.
However, a Connolly penalty strike at the other end was enough for Munsters to see out their sixth straight league win and undoubtedly their most important one of the season.
Afterwards, Young Munster coach Mike Lynch said: “The sense of relief is massive. I am so proud of everybody involved in our club. Crescent put it up to us and they fought brilliantly but we have worked hard all season and (today) we are getting our reward.”
Credit must go to Crescent for recovering from losing coach Mark Ring, earlier in the season, and winning their battle to stay up with 14 points gained in their last four games.
New coaches Jed O’Dwyer and Des Clohessy have really turned things around at Rosbrien.
SUTTONIANS 7 BECTIVE RANGERS 15, John J McDowell Memorial Grounds
Scorers: Suttonians: Try: John Tainui; Con: Paddy Maguire
Bective Rangers: Tries: Jamyn Keats; Con: Fergal Campion; Pen: Fergal Campion
Suttonians suffered their fifth straight AIB League defeat, going down to Bective on Saturday to confirm their relegation to Division Three for next season.
The hosts needed a bonus point win to stand any chance of staying up and while New Zealander John Tainui did get over for a try, converted by Paddy Maguire, it was never going to be enough.
Rubberstamping their sixth place finish, Bective took the spoils with centre Jamyn Keats, a recruit from New Zealand, cutting through for two tries and former Leinster out-half Fergal Campion kicked their other points.
THOMOND 10 UCC 17, Liam Fitzgerald Park
Scorers: Thomond: Tries: Anthony Hartery, Darragh O’Neill
UCC: Tries: Colin Crowley, Peter Shallow; Cons: Gavin Dunne 2; Pen: Gavin Dunne
Former table toppers UCC ensured their presence in the Division Two semi-finals with this victory over Thomond, but frustratingly just one more win for the Cork students would have seen them promoted to the top flight for the first time.
In rain-soaked conditions, UCC played into a light wind in the first half and fell behind in the tenth-minute when Thomond set up ruck position near the left corner and scrum half Anthony Hartery dived over for an unconverted try.
Five minutes before half-time, UCC hit the front when winger Colin Crowley sped in from the left to score a try which out-half Gavin Dunne converted.
The groundwork for the try was laid when impressive scrum half Sam Cronin took a quick tap penalty, 40 metres out, and number 8 Rob Barry injected further momentum with a 15-metre break before he passed to Crowley.
UCC right winger Peter Shallow got in on the try-scoring act in the 64th-minute. Centres Alex Kelleher and Brian Dennehy began the move, near halfway, and linked with full-back Scott Deasy before Shallow covered the 30 metres to the line.
Dunne’s conversion pushed UCC into a 14-5 lead. Thomond hit back with a five-pointer from winger Darragh O’Neill, but the Corkmen had the final word with an injury-time penalty from Dunne.
The losing bonus point helped Thomond finish fourth from bottom, although they did not need it as the three teams below them – Old Crescent, Suttonians and Barnhall – all lost on the final day.