Rugby: IRFU Ulster Bank League – Division 1A/1B Previews: Saturday, March 4
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
CLONTARF (4th) v LANSDOWNE (1st), Castle Avenue, tonight, 7.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Clontarf: WLLWLLLWWWLWW; Lansdowne: WWLLWWWWWLWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Clontarf: Points: Rob Keogh 97; Tries: Matt D’Arcy 7; Lansdowne: Points: Scott Deasy 142; Tries: Daniel McEvoy 10
If they maintain their current positions of fourth and first respectively, Clontarf will be travelling to Lansdowne in the Division 1A semi-finals in the latter part of April.
Mike Ruddock’s table toppers have held the edge over ‘Tarf in recent meetings, including October’s 33-31 thriller at headquarters, and their free-scoring winger Daniel McEvoy will be itching to add to his 10-try tally.
However, Clontarf are hitting very good form following wins over Cork Constitution and Old Belvedere. Given the expected wet conditions, the battle between hookers Jason Harris-Wright and Tyrone Moran in the scrum and lineout could be crucial to the outcome.
CORK CONSTITUTION (3rd) v OLD BELVEDERE (10th), Temple Hill
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Cork Constitution: WLLWWWWWWLWLW; Old Belvedere: WLWWWLLLWLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Cork Constitution: Points: Tomas Quinlan 130; Tries: Shane Daly 5; Old Belvedere: Points: Willie Staunton 79; Tries: Shane McDonald 4
These sides will meet in April’s Bateman Cup final but of more pressing concern for Old Belvedere is their top flight safety. They are now bottom of the table after four straight defeats.
Winning down at Temple Hill is a very tough task, especially as Cork Constitution are pressing for a home semi-final and are buoyed by last Sunday’s Munster Senior Cup final success.
Con have a five-day turnaround to negotiate as well as an injury list which includes Munster Academy prop Rory Burke (ankle). Their captain Niall Kenneally said: “One of our goals this season is to reach the play-offs. There’s a lot of heat coming from behind – one or two wins for other teams and it could be a real scrap. There’s a long way to go and we’ve unfinished business from last year.”
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY (8th) v GARRYOWEN (5th), College Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Dublin University: WLWWWLWLLLLWL; Garryowen: LWWLLLWWWLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dublin University: Points: Jack McDermott 85; Tries: Colm Hogan 6; Garryowen: Points: Neil Cronin 108; Tries: Liam Coombes 4
Dublin University, who have centre Seb Fromm returning from injury, will look to put a 42-point hammering by Lansdowne behind them when hosting a Garryowen side who still have top four ambitions.
Any Trinity mistakes were ruthlessly punished by the league leaders. They really need to rediscover their scoring touch, with director of rugby Tony Smeeth saying: “It takes a while to groom a good back-line, but we will get there as our intent is good. The boys are training hard. We have the athletes no doubt.”
Garryowen are chasing a student double after edging out UCD 17-16 last time out. They are back up to fifth spot but they are walking a tightrope with eighth-placed Trinity just three points behind them.
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (6th) v TERENURE COLLEGE (9th), Templeville Road, 3.15pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: St. Mary’s College: LWLWWLLLLWLWL; Terenure College: LLWLLLLLLWWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Sean Kearns 47; Tries: David Fanagan, Ryan O’Loughlin 4 each; Terenure College: Points: Jake Swaine 63; Tries: Marc Hiney 4
St. Mary’s are looking to do the double on neighbours Terenure in this much-anticipated local derby. Current Ireland Under-20 starlet Jordan Larmour was a try scorer in their 17-13 win at Lakelands in October.
Mary’s will be wary of a ‘Nure team that has strung together three recent victories and also given Cork Con a serious scrap last time out. Only three places and four points separate the Dublin 6W rivals in the table.
Claiming the match points here would be a big step towards safety for either side. If Leinster out-half Cathal Marsh starts again, he could steer the contest in Mary’s favour.
UCD (7th) v YOUNG MUNSTER (2nd), Belfield Bowl
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: UCD: LWLLLWLWLWWLL; Young Munster: LWWLWWWLLWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UCD: Points: Tom Fletcher 30; Tries: Tom Fletcher 6; Young Munster: Points: David O’Mahony 72; Tries: Cian Bohane 5
The matches are coming thick and fast for Young Munster who, having lost the Munster Senior Cup decider, must rally quickly for this important league trip to Belfield.
The Cookies cannot afford any slip ups with Cork Con and Clontarf still both in the running for that second home semi-final spot. Munster centre Cian Bohane’s brace against St. Mary’s took his season’s haul to five tries.
Back-to-back defeats have drawn UCD into relegation trouble. They are only four points off the bottom, so a home win is vital here with four Dublin derbies to come for Andy Skehan’s charges in the closing rounds.
BALLYMENA (6th) v UL BOHEMIANS (3rd), Eaton Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Ballymena: WWLWLLWWLDLWL; UL Bohemians: WWWWWLWLWWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballymena: Points: Ritchie McMaster 48; Tries: Rodger McBurney, Mark Best, James Beattie 4 each; UL Bohemians: Points: Rick McKenna 88; Tries: Finbar Aherne 6
Ballymena were particularly poor when losing 49-19 to Old Wesley at Donnybrook. One positive was the two-try contribution of 18-year-old Matthew Norris who has earned a start on the right wing tomorrow.
Andy Graham’s freshened-up side includes Matthew Rea in the second row and Conall Boomer at openside, but Ross Kane, Adam McBurney, Callum Patterson and David Whann are all out through injury.
Visitors UL had 10 points to spare in the sides’ October clash, however they are looking to avoid their fourth loss in a row as they battle to hold onto a promotion play-off place.
BUCCANEERS (1st) v DOLPHIN (10th), Dubarry Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Buccaneers: LWWWWWWWWDWWW; Dolphin: LLWLLLWWLLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Buccaneers: Points: Alan Gaughan 121; Tries: Jordan Gaughan 13; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 61; Tries: Ryan Murphy 5
Dolphin travel to the midlands on the back of a very encouraging victory over Shannon, two of their four tries coming from impressive number 8 Ryan Murphy.
However, runaway leaders Buccaneers have looked in a different class and if they can stretch their unbeaten league run to 13 games, promotion to Division 1A is virtually secured.
Prop Saba Meunargia’s departure to Doncaster Knights robs Buccs of one of their leading forwards, yet the Pirates have strength in depth. Jordan Conroy and Shane Layden return from a recent Ireland Sevens camp and Connacht centre Eoin Griffin is set for some game-time following a chest injury.
GALWEGIANS (9th) v OLD WESLEY (4th), Crowley Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Galwegians: LWLLLLLLWLLLW; Old Wesley: WWLWWWLDWLLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Galwegians: Points: Aidan Moynihan 53; Tries: Cormac Brennan 6; Old Wesley: Points: Barry McLaughlin 117; Tries: Ger Finucane, Paul Harte 4 each
These teams both got back to winning ways a fortnight ago and the key will be who can build on that momentum. Old Wesley’s performance in their 30-point dismissal of Ballymena was superb.
Rescaling the heights of that display on the road will be difficult, especially as Galwegians, who were two-try winners at Ballynahinch in round 13, are fighting for their lives in the bottom two.
Coming back from a hand injury, versatile Connacht back Darragh Leader will make a welcome return to club action. Teenage ‘Wegians talent Morgan Codyre is one to watch in the number 10 jersey.
NAAS (2nd) v BALLYNAHINCH (5th), Forenaughts
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Naas: WLLWWWLWLWWWL; Ballynahinch: WLWLLWLLWWWLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Naas: Points: Peter Osborne 110; Tries: Fionn Carr 6; Ballynahinch: Points: Chris Quinn 49; Tries: Jordan Grattan 5
Naas climbed above UL Bohemians into second place despite suffering a late loss to UCC. Their goal-kicking scrum half Peter Osborne now has 110 points to his name, making him the fourth top scorer in the division.
The Kildare men are looking to do the double on Ballynahinch who could yet qualify for the promotion play-offs or end up scrambling to avoid a bottom-two finish in the coming weeks.
‘Hinch are hunting for their first win in three rounds and although Stuart Morrow and Ross Carlisle are both unavailable this week, Craig Trenier, John Donnan, Aaron Cairns and possible David Busby – a try scorer with Ulster last Sunday – are all poised to feature.
SHANNON (8th) v UCC (7th), Thomond Park back pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form: Shannon: LLLLLWLDLWWWL; UCC: LLWLWLWLLLWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Shannon: Points: Ronan McKenna 48; Tries: Shane Mullally, Riley Winter, Conor Glynn, Niall Mulcahy 3 each; UCC: Points: Kevin O’Keeffe 111; Tries: Conor Barry 5
Cork opposition again for Shannon and they will be looking to avoid a repeat of their defeat to Dolphin. That 24-11 reversal, which saw Tom Hayes’ side held scoreless in the second half, put an end to their three-match winning streak.
UCC are now three from three after accounting for Dolphin, ‘Hinch and Naas. It is very much ‘one game at a time’ for Kevin Slater and his team-mates, with eighth-placed Shannon only four points behind them.
Individual errors and indiscipline let Shannon down against Dolphin and improvements in those areas will be crucial if they are to see off the students in what is expected to be a very tight encounter.