With just three weekends to go in the AIB League proper, there are some pivotal games down for decision in Division One this Saturday.
AIB LEAGUE: Saturday, March 25
DIVISION ONE (kick-off 2.30pm, unless stated):
BLACKROCK COLLEGE v UCD, Stradbrook
Blackrock got back to winning ways last time out against bottom side County Carlow, but this weekend, the midlanders face a UCD side expected to be bolstered by provincial players.
With Leinster given a 'free' weekend in the Celtic League, David Blaney, Robert Kearney and Ronnie McCormack could come into the reckoning for the students. Neither side is playing particularly well in the AIB League. UCD's play-off aspirations were blown away by recent defeats to Cork Constitution and Clontarf.
The 24-year-old Eoghan Hickey played well for Leinster in last week's friendly win over Petrarca and the Leinster "A" team's defeat of their Munster counterparts. He should kick the visitors to league win number six.
League Positions: Blackrock 13th, UCD 8th
League Form: Blackrock: LLLLW; UCD: WLWLL
Top Scorers: Blackrock: Paddy O'Toole 62; UCD: Eoghan Hickey 80
Recent Meetings: 02/03: UCD 15 Blackrock 7; 03/04: Blackrock 16 UCD 9; 04/05: UCD 23 Blackrock 10
BUCCANEERS v GALWEGIANS, Dubarry Park
A Connacht derby clash - the fourth of the season - but hosts Buccaneers have little to play for as they seek an unprecented fourth straight win over their western rivals
Geoff Moylan's Buccs side have won each of the Connacht Senior Cup, Connacht Senior League and AIB Cup games between the sides in 2005/06, but there is little on the line for them on Saturday but pride.
Galwegians, on the other hand, desperately need a win as they sit third from bottom with the relegation scenario seeing two teams automatically drop down to Division Two this season. Their last victory ironically came against Dublin University (26-23) in January - the Trinity students are 'Wegians' main rivals in the basement battle.
Trinity are a place below Paul Young's men in the table, but with seven points in the difference, they have a game in hand and an easier run-in. 'Wegians also face play-off chasers Cork Con and Clontarf in their final League games so they need to take something from Dubarry Park.
Connacht, who face Borders in the Celtic League tonight, have drawn away some of the top level players from both sides, and 'Wegians will hope for big performances from the likes of captain Ambrose Conboy, prop Dan McFarland and top-scoring full-back Brendan Bartley to end their three-game losing streak.
The sides met last month in the AIB Cup quarter-finals with Buccs securing a 23-6 win.
League Positions: Buccaneers 7th, Galwegians 14th
League Form: Buccaneers: LWLWD; Galwegians: WWLLL
Top Scorers: Buccaneers: Tom Cregan 155; Galwegians: Brendon Bartley 55
Recent Meetings: 02/03: Galwegians 9 Buccaneers 22; 03/04: Buccaneers 17 Galwegians 9; 04/05: Galwegians 20 Buccaneers 17
CLONTARF v BELFAST HARLEQUINS, Castle Avenue
A pivotal tie in the offing at Castle Avenue. It's hard to see Clontarf slipping up here, although Harlequins, despite some patchy league form - three defeats in four games, will test them to the hilt.
Especially given the fact that 'Quins have won the sides' last four AIB League games, beginning with 2001's 32-16 triumph at Deramore Park.
Andy Ward's visitors, who beat City of Derry 68-0 in the Ulster Senior Cup last weekend, still have an outside chance of making the play-offs. They will need everything to go right for them against a 'Tarf side that are unbeaten in the League since December - seven wins on the trot.
Clontarf coach Phil Werahiko has included fit-again Connacht centre James Downey in his side as a winger with Division One's top try-scorer Derek Keane (11 tries) injured.
Ward will start himself off the bench with 'Quins also notably welcoming back Ireland Under-21s' Darren Cave and Stuart Philpott from U-21 6 Nations duty.
League Positions: Clontarf 2nd, Belfast Harlequins 6th
League Form: Clontarf: WWWWW; Belfast Harlequins: WLWLL
Top Scorers: Clontarf: Darragh O'Shea 66; Belfast Harlequins: Michael Glancy 121
Recent Meetings: 02/03: Belfast Harlequins 24 Clontarf 15; 03/04: Clontarf 15 Belfast Harlequins 32; 04/05: Belfast Harlequins 6 Clontarf 0
CLONTARF: D O'Shea; N O'Brien, M Hewitt, B O'Donnell, J Downey; P O'Brien, F O'Loughlin; K Dorrian, N Carson, R Sweeney, A Trenier, A Wood, J Ellison, D O'Brien, P Purdue.
BELFAST HARLEQUINS: M Kettyle; J Lowe, D Cave, M McKeever, P McKenzie; J McClaughlin, R Kirkwood; C Keown, S Philpott, R Moore, R Frost, L Stevenson, R Devonshire, D Dougherty, C McCarey.
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY v BALLYMENA, College Park
Dublin University boss Tony Smeeth has made three changes to the side that beat Dungannon 25-12 three weeks ago for this weekend's must-win clash with Ballymena.
Former Ireland Schools international Donal Crotty replaces Brian Hastings in midfield, newcomer Michael Boland comes in for Mark O'Neill at out-half and Leinster Under-21 prop Killian O'Neill takes over from Niall Conlon on the loosehead side of the scrum.
Boland's inclusion is an interesting one - the 18-year-old former Gonzaga College pupil impressed for Trinity last week in a friendly fixture with Oxford College. Boland set up a try and kicked two penalties and a last-gasp drop goal to earn his side a famous 19-18 win at Iffley Road. Quite a debut!
Ballymena beat Dungannon last weekend to win through to the Ulster Senior Cup semi-finals and had the edge on Trinity in last year's meeting, winning 23-22 at Eaton Park.
The Braidmen have made two changes to their side - Shane Stewart replaces peter Budina on the right wing, while Michael McComish is unavailable for back row duty so Ulster Under-21 Adrian Saunderson gets a chance at openside with Bob Young switching to number eight.
Ballymena coach Steph Nel said: "They (Trinity) mustn't be messed with and last year they gave us a very, very tight game. We'd like to finish in the top half and it's achievable if we win two out of the next three and other results elsewhere go for us."
League Positions: Dublin University 15th, Ballymena 11th
League Form: Dublin University: WLLLW; Ballymena: WWLWW
Top Scorers: Dublin University: Johnny Watt 57; Ballymena: Paddy Wallace 68
Recent Meetings: 02/03: -; 03/04: -; 04/05: Ballymena 23 Dublin University 22
DUBLIN UNIVERSITY: G Murphy; P Howard, D Crotty, P Gillespie, R Doherty; M Boland, J Burns; K O'Neill, M Crockett, P Doran-Jones, D O'Reilly, M Warburton, P Rowe, H Hogan, M Garvey.
BALLYMENA: C Smith; S Stewart, D Strydom, J McGrugan, S Young; P Wallace, P Spence; A Kirkpatrick, P Shields, S Shawe, I Caldwell, H Head, A Graham, A Sanderson, B Young.
...The Dungannon team huddle with out-half Gareth Steenson (far right)...
DUNGANNON v UL BOHEMIANS, Stevenson Park
UL Bohs have been going great guns of late. Four league wins on the trot has seen them move up to fifth. Mike Tewkesbury's men have winnable fixtures against Ballymena (home) and Buccaneers (away) to follow so Shannon and company need to be on their toes, otherwise UL, last season's Division Two final winners, could spring a surprise. Still, the three-week break from league action will have done UL little favours.
Home advantage could prove key for Dungannon, who lie in ninth position. They won the sides' last meeting which was all of four years ago - 26-20 - at Stevenson Park. Jeremy Davidson's outfit have little to play for, but they will be smarting from last weekend's 34-21 Ulster Senior Cup quarter-final loss at the hands of Ballymena.
League Positions: Dungannon 9th, UL Bohemians 5th
League Form: Dungannon: LWLWL; UL Bohemians: LWWWW
Top Scorers: Dungannon: Gareth Steenson 111; UL Bohemians: Ben Martin 86
Recent Meetings: 02/03: Dungannon 26 UL Bohemians 20; 03/04: -; 04/05: -
LANSDOWNE v GARRYOWEN, Lansdowne Road
The visit of table-toppers Garryowen to headquarters looks a mouth-watering one. The Limerick men are searching for their 12th win of the campaign and tenth in 15 All-Ireland League meetings with Lansdowne.
The Dublin 4 hosts are without player-coach Brian O'Meara (shoulder) due to injury. Centre Killian Kennedy and flanker/scrum half Niall Ronan are also in the sick bay. All of which mean Under-20 players Alan McCormack and Joe Coleman are drafted in to make their first League starts. Gavin O'Meara, another Under-20, starts at hooker, Greg Stafford returns in midfield, while top-scoring New Zealander Corey Burt reverts to out-half.
Garryowen boast a perfect away record in this season's League with six wins from six. There were only four points between the sides last season, but expect more than a converted score to separate them this weekend.
League Positions: Lansdowne 12th, Garryowen 1st
League Form: Lansdowne: LWWLL; Garryowen: WWLWW
Top Scorers: Lansdowne: Corey Burt 148; Garryowen: Conor Kilroy 92
Recent Meetings: 02/03: Garryowen 13 Lansdowne 26; 03/04: Lansdowne 13 Garryowen 21; 04/05: Garryowen 12 Lansdowne 8
LANSDOWNE: A McCormack; F Baynes, N Walsh, G Stafford, J Coleman; C Burt, S Whelan; J Lyne, G O'Meara, E Bohan, A Maher, D Toner, D Lavin, V O'Dowd, J O'Donovan.
SHANNON v COUNTY CARLOW, Thomond Park
Champions Shannon will be desperate to get back on the winning trail after slipping up in a 34-8 defeat to neighbours Garryowen last time out. Facing bottom side Carlow at home seems the perfect tonic.
Mick Galwey's men, who need a win with fifth-placed UL snapping at their heels, should appreciate the chance to boost their 'points for' record. They beat Carlow 44-3 at Thomond Park just over four years ago and have chalked up three League wins over the midlanders since. Granted those wins have been tight with Carlow only beaten 17-7 at home last year, but Shannon have too much strength in depth to falter.
Carlow, coached this season by Trevor Shirley and New Zealander David Hodge, do have a game in hand, but with only four league points scored, they seem doomed.
League Positions: Shannon 4th, County Carlow 16th
League Form: Shannon: WLWWL; County Carlow: LLLLL
Top Scorers: Shannon: Andrew Thompson 72; County Carlow: Greg Jacob 67
Recent Meetings: 02/03: County Carlow 10 Shannon 18; 03/04: Shannon 20 County Carlow 11; 04/05: County Carlow 7 Shannon 17