Hinch deny Buccs a bonuspublished:Oct 01 2012
BUCCANEERS 17 BALLYNAHINCH 27
A strong start to both halves laid the foundations for Ballynahinch's 27-17 victory over Buccaneers in the opening round of this season's Ulster Bank League Division 1B played in near ideal conditions at Dubarry Park, Athlone. It was an emotional day for Hinch, their first outing since the tragic deaths of Nevin Spence, his brother Graham and their father Noel, for whom one minute of applause was celebrated prior to kick off.
Both teams were much-changed from the correspondent fixture last season with Buccs debuting an all new front row trio of Johannes Roets, Enda O'Brien and Peter Reilly while Conor FitzGibbon started in the centre of a very young backline. The Ulster side too depended on youth and thus the game began in helter skelter fashion in front of a modest attendance. Ballynahinch had first benefit of the diagonal breeze and were quickly out of the starting blocks to pin the homesters back. They eventually capitalised on a missed tackle in midfield and Aaron Ferris provided the overlap down the left flank before grounding the ball for a try at the posts after just 7 minutes. Michael Lawton added the conversion.
But with skipper Kolo Kiripati at the helm, the Pirates steadied their ship and soon were on the offensive with FitzGibbon and Callum Boland making sniping raids that led to a 12th minute penalty duly slotted over by Jack Carty. As the game entered the second quarter, James Tormey made a splendid rob inside his own 22 and this led to a concerted spell of pressure by Buccs. Hinch defended a number of close in penalties before Kiripati's swift tap and go caught them napping for a 22nd minute try. Carty could not convert but landed a penalty five minutes later to leave the hosts 11-7 ahead.
Lawton and Carty traded penalties amid the frenetic exchanges before Buccs suffered a major double whammy just before halftime. The inspiring Kiripati sustained an ankle injury on 38 minutes and, with his side disorganised in the aftermath, Aaron Cairns dived over at the posts for an opportunist try which Lawton converted for a 17-14 advantage for the northerners at the interval.
Hinch made an early breakthrough on the resumption, Chris Napier powering over for a 44th minute try on the left following a decent spell of pressure. Lawton added a fine conversion to put ten points between the teams as Buccs struggled in the third quarter. This period was stop-start due to some injury breaks and scrums were uncontested from 50 minutes due to injuries in the Ballynahinch front row. Just after the hour mark, Carty punished a high tackle with a good penalty and this rejuvenated the midlanders. John O'Brien finally began to get a decent supply of ball and the fullback's mazy running caused regular problems for the visitors from thereon. He made a super break on 70 minutes to link up with David Heffernan who off-loaded to Billy Henshaw but the winger's drive for the line was stopped when a pass to an overlapping teammate would surely have reaped a try.
Boland and Carty also came close while Hinch fullback Adam Craig put in a try-saving tackle on Conor Finn but the pressure was now telling on the visitors and some desperate defending drew the ire of referee Olly Hodges who yellow carded Harry McAleese for 'slowing the ball'. Buccs opted not to kick the straight-forward penalty but failed to penetrate stout Hinch defending, despite the Pirates numerical superiority.
Then, in the final move of the game, Barry Digby obstructed Lawton as the Ulster side's winger chased his own kick ahead. The home substitute somehow escaped the sin bin but Lawton rubbed salt in home wounds when he landed the resultant penalty from the last kick of an exciting contest to deny Buccs even a losing bonus point.
This was a game that really could have gone either way but the injury to influential captain Kiripati was the decisive incident. He had looked good for the AUDI ATHLONE Man of the Match accolade which was awarded to Eoghan Grace and Buccaneers lacked guile and patience when needed in the closing finale. Tormey was outstanding while John O'Brien, Henshaw and Reilly also made notable contributions. The wily Stevenson led Ballynahinch by example and got key support from Napier and Paul Pritchard to grab a win that will doubtless give an invaluable lift at this difficult time for the Co. Down club.