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Buccaneers’ Winning Run Ended By Harlequins

Buccaneers’ Winning Run Ended By Harlequins

Buccaneers suffered their first defeat of this season’s Ulster Bank League when they went down narrowly to Belfast Harlequins in a well-contested encounter at Deramore Park.

A dreary afternoon of strong diagonal winds, regular showers and watery puddles in spots made for difficult conditions for both sets of players.

With Connacht calling up both Eoghan Grace and Michael Kearney to their squad to face the Ospreys, Buccaneers made two enforced changes in their pack.

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Padraig de Burca came in at lock while teenager Luke Satchwell made a second start in the back row. James Robinson returned after injury in place of Benny Gilligan.

Belfast Harlequins welcomed back Ulster prospect Michael Allen on the right wing and had the towering Neil McComb at number 8.

The midlanders had first use of the elements but tooked far too long to harness them to the best advantage, although an early flurry forced a third minute penalty when the hosts were tempted offside. However, out-half Jack Carty allowed too much for the wind and a solid opportunity to settle nerves was lost.

Buccs had plenty of possession in the opening half but tended to over-elaborate and hurry matters. Skipped passes were a constant problem in the breeze and it was some time before Carty pinned back 'Quins with adroit line-kicking.

A crossing offence denied Buccs a decent chance after 11 minutes and, from the ensuing penalty, 'Quins cleared their lines and found a good touch on the right.

From lineout possession, they moved the ball smartly and the Pirates were stretched but the combined forces of Shane Layden and Kolo Kiripati forced a Quins knock on with the visitors' try-line in sight.

The Buccs scrum was under pressure from a bigger home unit and this led to the opening score of the game, a Michael Heaney penalty in the 16th minute.

But Buccaneers put together some better moves after this setback, benefiting from a number of throws to the front of the lineout.

Good territory led to a number of close-in scrums, with Kiripati almost getting through after 26 minutes, while a knock on and then a missed pass helped 'Quins keep their line intact.

But on the half hour, Carty lofted a sublime garryowen that was knocked on by a home defender and hooker Niall Annett could not resist picking up the ball in an offside position. Carty duly slotted over the penalty to draw the visitors level.

Buccs were beginning to hit their stride at this stage and, from the restart, David Heffernan made a thundering charge upfield and Callum Boland and Kiripati carried the move on before the ball was offloaded to Daniel Qualter who powered over in the left corner for a 33rd minute try which Carty was unable to convert.

The Pirates now had their noses 8-3 in front but their lead did not last long. 'Quins full-back Rory Scholes made a slippery break that yielded a successful Heaney penalty just three minutes later.

The impressive Scholes then got through a yawning gap in the midlanders' defence in the final move of the half for a crucial try, converted by Heaney, that gave 'Quins a late fillip and a 13-8 advantage at half-time.

Buccs came under siege right from the restart. 'Quins withdrew Annett at the break, with Robert Logan coming in at hooker, but last year's Ireland Under-20 captain was back in the fray within ten minutes as the hosts made a double substitution in their back row when both Paul Rea and Lawrence Babe were withdrawn, the latter being replaced by Alistair Scott.

Buccs withstood a ten-minute onslaught and then introduced Adam Kennedy for Alex Hayman and they gradually regained some momentum, Carty and Layden making good yardage.

They steadily made inroads, benefiting from some fine picking and driving and, notably, improved retention of possession.

This was rewarded with a Carty penalty after 61 minutes to narrow the margin to just two points at which stage Martin Staunton came on in the front row.

The game was now very much in the balance but, just four minutes later, Buccs lock de Burca was yellow carded following a high tackle and former Ireland underage international Heaney extracted further punishment by landing the ensuing penalty.

Denis Buckley was then penalised in the 74th minutes but Heaney's radar was off-target. Yet, Buccs' restart went straight into touch and from the resultant possession 'Quins tempted the Pirates offside and the assured Heaney made no mistake on this occasion to put the home side 19-11 clear.

Buccs maintained territory in a hectic finish and their unstinting efforts gained some reward when, with the final kick of a spirited contest, Carty salvaged a bonus point with a 83rd minute penalty from a difficult position.

The home pack dominated in the tight with the Ulster-capped McComb generally dictating matters. Heaney's kicking was top class in the conditions, while Scholes and Allen both troubled Buccs every time they got possession.

Buccs were collectively below par given their performances to date this season, but they never shirked the battle in conditions not best suited to them and their persistent endeavour yielded their first bonus point of the campaign.

Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)