It’s the first weekend of the AIL Ulster Bank league rugby, we preview and have live score updates from all the Division 1a matches.
BUCCANEERS v LANSDOWNE, Dubarry Park
Buccaneers are back dining at the Ulster Bank League’s top table after a 10-year absence. With their Division 1B title-winning coach Brett Wilkinson taking up a job in Hong Kong, there is some continuity with his assistant Darin Claasen stepping up as Buccs’ new head coach. Retired Leinster and Ireland lock Mike McCarthy is in charge of the forwards.
Recent Ireland Under-20 captain and Connacht Academy newcomer Paul Boyle is poised to make his debut for the Pirates against his former club, while Peter Claffey, Conan O’Donnell and New Zealander Dan Law will strengthen their pack. Injury rules out Jordan Conroy, their 18-try hero last season.
Lansdowne did the hard work in topping the table in April but fell short in the play-offs. Prop Ian Prendiville, who continues as club captain, said: “With the squad we have, they’re a year older and a lot of them needed that extra year. Hopefully now we can push on and be real contenders. The standard of coaching that Mike (Ruddock) brings is huge – he’s an international coach coaching at AIL level.”
CORK CONSTITUTION v CLONTARF, Temple Hill
The league’s last two champions meet in a repeat of the 2017 final, in which man-of-the-match Tomas Quinlan kicked 20 points for a victorious Cork Constitution. Captain Niall Kenneally feels Con are just as hungry for success this season, saying: “Guys get a taste of it and they want it again. Hopefully we can get off to a solid start.”
Clontarf have some new faces in the squad – including forwards Dylan Donnellan and Joe Roe and winger James McKeown – as well as a new backs coach in James Downey. Skipper Ben Reilly said: “It’s great to have Jimmy back (at Clontarf), he’s a real clubman. The backs are enjoying the change there, he’s bringing in some really good stuff.”
The clubs’ two regular season meetings in 2016/17 produced a home win apiece. Ireland Sevens squad member Shane Daly starred in Con’s 24-17 success at Temple Hill, before ‘Tarf – aided by two tries from full-back Rob Keogh – won the rematch at Castle Avenue on a 22-13 scoreline.
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY v TERENURE COLLEGE, College Park
Dublin University begin the new league campaign against the team they defeated to stay up in mid-April. That 27-25 victory over Terenure, crowned by a stunning last-minute try from winger Tim Maupin who has since moved to St. Mary’s, kept Tony Smeeth’s young guns in the top flight.
Although Trinity have lost some key players, Ulster and Munster-capped scrum half Angus Lloyd returns in the number 9 jersey tomorrow. Strong-running centre Michael Courtney, who turned 22 yesterday, steps up as captain, Sam Pim, who returns from a successful stint playing for University of Queensland, starts at blindside flanker and Denis Buckley’s brother Maurice (21) gets the nod at hooker.
The family links continue as Terenure welcome back Joe Schmidt’s son, scrum half Tim, following an Erasmus year in Toulouse. The ‘Nure pack has been beefed up by South African hooker Schalk Jooste, Giorgi Turabelidze (from Portugal via Georgia) and former Ireland Under-20 and Ulster ‘A; lock Alex Thompson, while it will be interesting to see how American recruit Kalei Konrad fares in midfield.
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE v GARRYOWEN, Templeville Road
It was a tough slog for both of these clubs last season with 11 defeats each. St. Mary’s ended up just three points clear of the relegation zone, while Garryowen had to save their top flight status via play-off wins over Old Wesley and UL Bohemians.
On early season evidence, Garryowen have bolstered their squad with some canny acquisitions. Their scrum is much improved with Trinity prop Andy Keating now on board. Behind him, Darren Ryan, Aaron McCloskey and Sean Rennison have moved across from Young Munster and number 8 Mark Rowley returns from Old Wesley.
Led by new captain Ciaran Ruddock, St. Mary’s have had an encouraging early season with Leinster wins over UCD and Old Belvedere, although a second half slump saw them beaten 31-20 by Lansdowne last Saturday. They will be eager to retain the Shay Deering Trophy and give new head coach Peter Burke a winning start in Division 1A.
YOUNG MUNSTER v UCD, Tom Clifford Park
Back to full fitness after shoulder and ankle injuries, 22-year-old back rower Ben Kilkenny from Tipperary will captain Young Munster this term as they target a fourth successive Division 1A semi-final and, with it, a long-awaited shot at the league title.
There have been a number of ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ in the off-season, the Cookies recruiting Trinity number 8 Tom Ryan, versatile Galwegians and Connacht Eagles forward Marc Kelly, Kiwi centre Ben Swindlehurst from Naas and 19-year-old Munster Academy newcomer Daniel Hurley.
UCD will want to build some momentum ahead of next week’s home clash with Trinity. They ran Munsters close (37-31) on their last visit to Greenfields and certainly have the personnel to trouble them. Their Ireland Sevens contingent, including lively centre Jimmy O’Brien, ran Old Belvedere ragged in a 43-5 Leinster Senior League win last Saturday.