Dolphin recorded their first home win of the season when they came from behind to pip Buccaneers 24-23 in Saturday’s Ulster Bank League Division 1B contest at Irish Independent Park.
In a match played in balmy sunshine and on a top class surface, Buccaneers will rue not translating another promising lead into victory for the third time in their 2015/16 campaign.
The Pirates began strongly in this lively encounter and following a superb maul after a lineout 22 metres from the home line, Conor McKeon switched the attack from left to right where Rory O'Connor claimed the diagonal kick to surge over for an eighth minute try which McKeon did well to convert.
Six minutes later, Daniel Qualter won possession in midfield and following the deftest of offloads by Martin Staunton, winger Eoghan O'Reilly went scampering down the left flank for an unconverted try for the midlanders.
However, in between these scores, Dolphin gave Rory Scannell an early introduction. Buccs stretched their lead to 15-0 in the 26th minute when McKeon punished the hosts after Michael Mannion was tackled in the air, but Scannell's arrival had a pronounced effect on the outcome.
The Corkmen were at sixes and sevens in the opening quarter but Munster and Emerging Ireland representative Scannell got them re-organised and added a considerable threat with ball in hand and also from place-kicks.
Unfortunately for Buccs, scrum half Graham Lynch displayed his naivety for the second game in succession when again being sin-binned. Six minutes before half-time he needlessly slowed possession and Scannell opened Dolphin's account with the resulting penalty.
This gave the home side a much-needed lift and in the final move of the half, full-back Shane McAuliffe got through much too easily from 30 metres for a try at the posts. Scannell's conversion narrowed Dolphin's arrears to 15-10 at the break, despite his team having been well outplayed for large swathes of the first half.
Dolphin were rejuvenated on the restart and now attacked with purpose and commitment that had been lacking in the opening period. Within three minutes they were level, Munster centre Cian Bohane finishing off early pressure for an unconverted try wide on the left.
Brett Wilkinson's men paid dearly for that yellow card, conceding 15 points in that spell, and then Scannell landed a 45th minute penalty to put the hosts 18-15 ahead.
Buccs forced themselves back into the contest and some terrific play took them to 12 metres from the home line where, straight in front of the posts, Barry Fitzgerald came offside to disrupt the real promise of a seven-pointer for the Athlone outfit.
Infuriatingly for the Pirates supporters, although referee Mark Connolly awarded a penalty, there was no yellow card produced. McKeon landed the place-kick to make it 18-all with half an hour remaining.
However, just two minutes later, Dolphin regained the lead with when Stephen McVeigh was penalised for a late tackle on Scannell. The latter stepped up to drill over the three-pointer.
Buccs too were creating chances, but Connacht Academy member McKeon then missed a kickable penalty before over-hitting another one for touch either side of the hour mark.
Buccaneers regained the lead eight minutes from time. Replacement prop Saba Meunargia had made terrific yardage with a powerful charge, and McKeon punted a teasingly angled grubber kick to which Callum Boland won the race to touch down for a clever but unconverted try.
Frustratingly for Wilkinson and his fellow coaches, the Pirates promptly conceded a soft penalty when not rolling away on their own 22. Scannell's effort squeezed inside an upright for the winning score on a 24-23 margin.
Buccs nodded off, not for the first time this season, in the mid portion of this entertaining joust and their tempo was perhaps not helped by quite a number of stoppages. Meanwhile, Dolphin will be grateful for the leadership and contribution made by the impressive Scannell who lit up this game.
Referee: Mark Connolly (IRFU)