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Three-Try ‘Quins Beat ‘Rusty’ Buccs

Three-Try ‘Quins Beat ‘Rusty’ Buccs

Belfast Harlequins just held on to pip Buccaneers 19-18 at Dubarry Park, as they made it two wins on the trot in Ulster Bank League Division 1B.

Conditions were raw and windy but dry and sunny for this January encounter which was played, somewhat bizarrely and unnecessarily, under floodlights.

However, the Pirates did not really 'light up' until being reduced to 13 players in the final quarter when they tacked on 10 points in a rousing rally, but Harlequins had earlier played to their strengths to build a match-winning advantage.

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Buccs had not played for six weeks and it showed, particularly in the opening half when they made insufficient use of the elements as they suffered a costly third successive league defeat.

The Pirates had a number of personnel and positional changes from their loss to Terenure College. Conor Finn returned in the centre with Shane Layden switching to full-back instead of the injured Callum Boland.

Daniel Qualter returned at lock with Kolo Kiripati switching to blindside flanker in place of Connacht back rower Mata Fifita.

'Quins, with a heftier pack featuring towering second row Neil McComb and prop Ricky Lutton, were content to keep matters tight and let their forwards make the hard yards.

It took the hosts some time to apply pressure but the Adam Larkin-coached visitors got an early slice of good fortune.

As Buccs moved the ball laterally from right to left, one obvious pass too many was made and Michael Heaney read the telegraphed intentions to intercept on his own 10-metre line.

The Ulster squad member grabbed the gilt-edged opportunity and with Buccaneers cover spread thinly, he had the pace and composure to get to the line despite Layden's chase.

Liam Cambridge was unable to convert from wide on the right but the out-half soon high-tackled his opposite number Ben Carty as he chased his own chip ahead. However, Buccs' teenage number 10 was off target from a kickable position.

Nevertheless, Buccs were quickly on level terms when they regained possession from the restart and moved the ball smartly to the right where left winger Steve Macauley popped up to provide an overlap and dart in for a well-taken 20th minute try in the corner which Carty could not convert.

Harlequins responded promptly to this score by introducing Rory Scholes at full-back with Heaney moving to his more familiar role at scrum half in place of Josh Fullerton. Cambridge then missed a penalty on 29 minutes.

A sweeping Buccs move – with Macauley again prominent – looked like reaping a second home try but 'Quins slowed the momentum close to their line and the midlanders were hastily pinged for not releasing.

When Buccs were again penalised inside their own half on 36 minutes, 'Quins kicked to touch on the right. Winning good lineout possession, they went through the phases to score a crucial try just before the break.

Flanker Oliver Loughead got the touchdown and Cambridge added the conversion for a 12-5 lead and, although Buccs again attacked strongly before the interval, the northerners retained their advantage for half-time.

Buccs restarted in spirited and purposeful manner and good work at a scrum yielded a 42nd minute penalty which Carty drilled over. The Pirates were now doing much better in the set pieces and Lutton was yellow carded at a 49th minute scrum.

Buccs did not benefit from their temporary numerical advantage – indeed Cambridge missed a straightforward place-kick for 'Quins – but the hosts made promising inroads after 64 minutes when a knock-on spoiled decent territory.

Daniel Dass played the whistle and made good yardage to discomfort Buccs, for whom both Qualter and Diarmuid Higgins were yellow carded in quick succession for indiscretions as the Athlone side were stretched.

The visitors promptly inflicted further punishment on the Pirates when after punting the penalty to the left, their pack rumbled over with the inspiring McComb applying the finishing touch for a try which Heaney did well to convert.

This put 'Quins in a strong position – 19-8 ahead after 66 minutes and with a two-man advantage – and Buccaneers supporters feared were that the visitors would surely forge a bonus point try.

Remarkably, Buccaneers played their best rugby in this period and were swiftly driving towards the the Ulstermen's try- line. Plenty of hands were involved before prop Martin Staunton powered over for a 69th minute try.

Carty duly converted and then kicked a fine penalty three minutes later when Kenny McCombe was sin-binned for slowing Buccs momentum.

Perhaps they should have gone for broke in search of a seven-pointer but the penalty left just the minimum between the sides (19-18).

In a final flurry, the midlanders just could not salvage a match-winning score, while Harlequins replacement Mark Best was off target with a drop goal attempt at the other end of the pitch.

This was a rusty performance by Buccs and it took them too long to eradicate errors. Their back-line looked the more inventive but 'Quins pack laid the groundwork for their victory.

Giving his reaction afterwards, Harlequins head coach Adam Larkin said: “We made hard work of it at the end. But we pulled through and I'm delighted for the guys (to win on the road).”

Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU)