Rob Murphy from grassroots rugby website, www.Knockon.ie, previews the two final round fixtures in the IRFU Junior Interprovincial Championship. Can champions-elect Leinster make it three wins out of three against chief challengers Ulster?
2013/14 IRFU JUNIOR INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, May 10
ROUND 3 FIXTURES -
ULSTER (2nd) v LEINSTER (1st), Dromore RFC, 2.30pm
This is almost a winner-takes-all contest in Dromore on Saturday - it would take an Ulster win and Munster beating Connacht by a landslide margin for it not to be at this stage.
That makes the planning simple for both coaches, bonus points and losing bonus points are irrelevant. A one point win for Ulster and the title is theirs baring a bizarre turn of events, while a draw or a win for Leinster will see the title in their hands for the first time since 2010.
For Alasdair McKee, the scenario is a huge consolation after losing 10-9 to Munster last weekend in Youghal. The long trip home must have been a ponderous one.
In dreadful weather, they had managed the game perfectly for the guts of 70 minutes, turning with the wind just three points down and then kicking nine points after half-time.
The turning point came on the Munster line with an interception that saw Eoin Duffy run the length of the field and set up the winning conversion, taking the grand slam from the men in white but not the Championship and they will be determined to make amends this weekend.
For Leinster, their squad depth has been tested considerably in the two games to date and the players have stepped up to the plate with flying colours.
Their 13-8 opening victory over Munster was hard earned and impressive, and without every being at their free-flowing best last weekend against Connacht, they were watertight in defence and showed patience in their quest for a bonus point (they eventually won 28-0 with four tries).
The key challenge for McKee's men is to meet fire with fire at the breakdown. Gareth McCoy came back for the Munster match and the Portadown man is a key element to their back row with Jamie Clegg from Bangor and Jamie Johnston from Enniskillen more than capable of delivering.
Leinster have been forced into another change in the back-line with Kilkenny man Killian Everard out injured and a big loss, but Niall O'Donoghue from Coolmine is back from injury after a strong display against Munster and he is a more than capable replacement.
They have made changes in their back row too with Damien Broughall coming into the side at number 8, while the front row sees Monkstown's James Clifford return.
The battle of the half-backs will be fascinating with Ulster duo Scott Nelson (Ballymoney) and Niall Lawther (Ballyclare) in fine form and ready to test captain TC Campbell from Dundalk and Monkstown's Bill Duggan.
A top quality contest is in store between two very talented teams that have very much targeted a title from the outset of this competition. The visitors might just have the edge in terms of momentum.
Match Prediction: Leinster to win by two points
ULSTER: Ashley Finlay (Cooke); Andrew Hodgen (CIYMS), Gary Clotworthy (Ballyclare), Jason Morgan (Bangor), Phil Cartmill (Cooke); Niall Lawther (Ballyclare), Scott Nelson (Ballymoney); Chris Nash (Academy), Phil Whyte (Bangor), James Blair (Academy), Gareth Fitzpatrick (Dromore), Kenny Morton (Ophir), Gareth McCoy (Portadown), Chris Hamilton (Donaghadee), Jamie Johnston (Enniskillen).
Replacements (from): Karl Egan (Limavady), Scott Finlay (Cooke), Mark Neilly (Portadown), James Carleton (Portadown), Rob Boyd (Ballyclare), Jamie Clegg (Bangor), Gary Weatherup (Ballyclare), Ally Lockhart (Donaghadee), Alan Wilkinson (Enniskillen).
LEINSTER: Stephen McGee (Dundalk); Niall O'Donoghue (Coolmine), Jonathan Williams (Dundalk), Ben Swindlehurst (Newbridge), Joni Butterworth (Arklow); Bill Duggan (Monkstown), TC Campbell (Dundalk) (capt); James Clifford (Monkstown), Johnny Lee (Coolmine), Dylan Quinn (Longford), Niall Smullen (Wicklow), Geoff Mullen (Coolmine), Barry Stewart (Longford), David Gilchrist (Coolmine), Damien Broughall (Cill Dara).
Replacements: Kevin McCarthy (Newbridge), Conor McCormack (Cill Dara), David O'Connor (Kilkenny), Adrian Hanley (Monkstown), Gavin Kennedy (Ashbourne), Chris Jebb (Clondalkin), Ross Doyle (Portarlington).
MUNSTER (3rd) v CONNACHT (4th), Presentation RFC, 2.30pm
For the first time in five years this fixture looks set to not be a deciding factor in the Championship. In 2010, Connacht beat Munster in Ballincollig to deny them the title and a grand slam, marking the first of a run of three wins in as many years for the westerners as they won titles in 2011 and 2012 before Munster lifted the crown in Ballinasloe last season after ending that run.
There is still a small chance that the trophy could be on the line in this game, but the only way Munster can overhaul the two sides above them is if Ulster win without a try-scoring bonus point and they beat Connacht by a margin of 60 points plus an additional point for every point Ulster win by.
That is very unlikely on current form. While Connacht lost 62-6 to Ulster in round 1, that was as a result of a second half collapse and the 28-0 loss to Leinster in round 2 did not reflect a much more determined defensive effort.
Connacht are likely to improve again here in that regard but there is no denying it has been wretched campaign for the westerners.
The transition phase in Connacht can be more unforgiving than for the other provinces with the pool of talent coming from a much smaller base.
Despite those titles in 2011 and 2012, only four of last weekend's starting line-up were involved in those wins. The new-look panel will take time to develop but they are far from happy with their two displays so far despite all that.
For Munster, the performances have not been flawless but the management will take great heart from the commitment and determination of their squad which has been disrupted by a string of late finishing Cup competitions in the province.
The 10-9 win over Ulster was smash and grab stuff last week but came from a stern defensive system and an in-built confidence that teams from the province always have. Not to mention the fact that they are, of course, still the title holders.
The balance of form suggests a Munster win here. Mark Healy has added an extra and important ingredient to the back-line after missing game one and the back three of Eoin Duffy, Warren Kelly from St. Senan's and Cian Keegan from Skibbereen are just itching to cut loose.
For Connacht, the challenge is to build through the phases. Last week against Leinster through Dwayne Corcoran, Kevin Corcoran and Darren Griffin, they offered glimpses of some really good attacking play but the line breaks were not built upon and that needs to change if they are to make an impact here.
This should be a keenly-contested affair and it is hard to envisage Connacht suffering another heavy loss, but Munster will be out to win and win well at the Limerick venue and will not hold back if they get their noses in front.
Match Prediction: Munster to win by 13 points
MUNSTER: Eoghan O'Dwyer (Thurles); Eoin O'Carroll (Tralee), Eoin Duffy (Waterpark), Darren O'Keeffe (Crosshaven), Warren Kelly (St. Senan's); Mark Healy (Kanturk), Stuart Lee (Old Christians); Pa Ryan (St. Senan's), Mike Cronin (Castleisland), Aidan Foley (Clonakilty), James Corbett (Newcastlewest), Aaron Skerritt (St. Senan's), Kevin Allen (Cobh Pirates), Johnny O'Sullivan (Kanturk), Ian Fitzgerald (St. Senan's).
Replacements (from): David Fitzgerald (Waterpark), Mike Calnan (Skibbereen), Brian O'Neill (Kanturk), Darragh Joyce (Waterpark), Dan McCabe (Kanturk), Paul Cotter (Kanturk), Cian Keegan (Skibbereen), Sean Cremin (Kanturk).
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