12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
Ulster Bank Junior Cup Semi Final: Kanturk v Tullamore, Knocknacolon, Saturday 26th
Kick Off - 2:30pm
Kanturk are second in Munster with just two defeats in 12 so as underdogs go they are hardly Bradford City yet reigning champions Tullamore have won the Leinster Junior league with two games to spare. They have won this competition twice in six seasons and are looking like an unbeatable force ahead of the round robin qualifiers.
For that reason, the obvious call is for an away win but consider this, Kanturk haven't lost a Knocknacolon for over three seasons. They are the only side in Munster to have beaten Richmond this season and have beaten last year's semi finalists Westport with ease at home before winning away at Cooke in the last eight.
The Cork side might not have the kind of squad size in terms of depth that the likes of Richmond, Tullamore and a handful of other sides with Ulster Bank League ambitions have, but on their day they are among the best Junior sides in the country. They are underdogs Sunday for sure but they are also a serious contender for every title they contend for.
This season has been largely a major success, they have Munster Junior Club's Challenge Cup final against Richmond on the horizon in what will be a huge day for the club, they're three points behind the Limerick side in the table having played a game more, are still to enter the Munster Junior Cup and are in a first ever semi final in this competition.
Led by the hard working and dynamic number eight Dan McCabe, they have a pack that can win in Munster's Junior league which means they have a pack that won't shirk the task against any Junior club nationally. Brian O'Neill is also vital at tighthead, Paul Cotter marshals them well from nine.
The backline is where they can differentiate from some of the sides in the top tier in their province. Darragh Meade at full back is a kicking machine and reads the game well, Luke McCabe is one of the best inside centres in his province while Peter Earlie is a finisher of the quality you rarely see at this level. His hat trick against Westport was a fine example of this.
Yet the visitors are hardly short of individual talent from 1 to 15. In fact, if you were picking a team of the season from Leinster League Division 1a the main headache would be who to leave out from the Offaly club.
The half backs of Richie Hughes and Aaron Deverell have been vital this season the back three have racked up the tries but the strong direct running in the three quarters has been key to that and a simple and effective forward game has helped also. Kicking for goal has been an issue but hasn't cost them dearly either.
There is no denying their most important component is at eight in the guise of Adrian Hanley, his battle with McCabe will be fascinating and could be key to the final outcome. The front row is strong with depth in the front row. Rob Connor is a menace at eight, Anthony and Adrian Hughes add to the Ulster Bank League experience. It's all there.
Picking a winner is tough but you have to go with the visitors at this point. They wrapped up the Leinster league title at the weekend, they are the only side in the final four that have been here before and along the way to their two titles, they have won at challenging venues like this many times before.
Kanturk will not mind being written off however and there will be a great crowd and a brilliant atmosphere in the picturesque mid Cork town in the build up to Saturday's clash. It is a great place to watch rugby and this weekend two clubs at the height of their powers will square up for a place in a national final. What more could you want?
Prediction: Tullamore by 1 - 5 points
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