Buccaneers and Blackrock College served up a feast of scores and entertaining rugby in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B encounter at Dubarry Park where the spoils were shared after a hectic tussle.
Buccaneers made four changes in personnel following last weekend’s defeat at BelfastHarlequins. South Sea Islanders duo Kolo Kiripati (injured) and Mata Fifita (ill) were enforced absentees.
Stand-in captain Eoghan Grace came into the back row , while Mark McCrea started at full-back, Garreth Halligan resumed at hooker and Conor Fitzgibbon joined his cousin Billy Henshaw patrolling the wings.
Blackrock skipper Cian Culleton returned to active duty in the front row of a beefy and experienced pack that included Des Dillon, Owen Cullen and one-time Bucc David Gannon.
On a calm, dry afternoon in total contrast to the preceding week, Blackrock had the first scoring chance but Rob Keogh missed a kickable penalty after only two minutes.
Buccs grabbed their first opportunity just three minutes later when, after James Tormey won good lineout ball, Grace peeled away on the blindside for a smartly-taken try on the left and Jack Carty added a fine touchline conversion.
Keogh found the range with a ninth minute penalty while Carty was off target just two minutes later after Alex Hayman had been stopped just short and the visitors’ Tom Kevany was yellow carded.
Keogh missed a second penalty after 15 minutes, but shortly afterwards he was converting David Godfrey's try when 'Rock capitalised as Mark Dolan was receiving treatment for an ankle injury that forced his early withdrawal.
Barry Digby replaced the scrum half and he battled on bravely despite shipping an injury that limited his mobility before half-time.
But Buccs were back in front on 25 minutes, centre Hayman surging through and Carty, who initiated the move, adding the conversion.
The Pirates extended their lead when McCrea made a telling break and showed good composure in finding Conor Finn. He somehow held onto possession before the ball was moved to the right where Grace’s deft offload sent Luke Satchwell scurrying in for an excellent 27th minute try.
Carty’s conversion put Buccs 21-10 ahead in a lively joust. The Dubliners had the next scoring sniff but Kevany ignored an overlap and then knocked on when the home defence closed him down.
Buccs stretched their advantage in the final move of a free-flowing opening half. Man-of-the-match Hayman made the initial thrust and Finn carved a gap through the centre as he angled for a bonus point try on the left which, although not converted, gave the Athlone outfit a healthy 26-10 half-time lead.
Blackrock were more purposeful on the resumption and Kevany went flying down the left flank to set up Jan-Simon Byrne's 46th-minute try which Keogh converted.
As the action moved from end to end, Martin Staunton got a good blockdown on an attempted 'Rock clearance and this yielded a five-metre scrum after which Carty’s snipe was stopped tantalisingly close to the visitors’ line.
Buccs then introduced Peter Reilly and Diarmuid Higgins into their front row and the latter made an immediate impact as he thundered forward before unleashing Hayman who powered in for a magnificent 58th minute try – his second of the match. Carty converted to restore Buccs' 16-point advantage.
But Blackrock's response was immediate, replacement Emile van Wyck breaking the home cover for a try which Keogh converted to reduce the arrears to 33-24.
Blackrock's more physical pack were now dominating and good interplay was rewarded with Job Langbroek's 73rd-minute touchdown. Keogh converted the bonus point score to leave just two points between the teams.
Although the crowd was small, both sets of supporters made themselves heard as an enthralling contest ebbed and flowed.
The exertions were taking their toll on the lighter hosts but they responded with some decent pressure from which Carty kicked a wonderful 78th minute drop goal that looked as if it might seal the victory for Buccs.
Blackrock launched one final flurry and elusive winger Byrne snaffled a last-ditch try on the right to tie the scores. Keogh was unable to convert though and the sides had to share the points after a hectic contest.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)