Dungannon centre Glen Telford tries to get past the challenges of Blackrock's Carl Gilligan (left) and Fionn Carr (right) at Stradbrook.
Both Ballymena and Dungannon face daunting tasks today as they visit unbeaten table-toppers Shannon and Garryowen in Limerick, respectively.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION ONE: Saturday, December 10 (all kick-offs 2.30pm, unless stated)
- FIXTURES -
Belfast Harlequins (7th) v Galwegians (13th), Deramore Park
'Wegians were well-and-truly hammered off the park at Belfield last week, conceding four second half tries to UCD in a 41-12 defeat, and Deramore Park is hardly the place to go in search of a heartening performance.
Andy Ward's 'Quins have gotten back on the rails after a shaky start to the league campaign, but their inability to score the crucial tries was showed up by last week's 20-18 loss at the hands of Mary's. The Belfast side's top scoring fly-half Michael Glancy booted six penalties to hand Ward's men a healthy lead but a clinching try was beyond them. With back row Chris McCarey and scrum-half Reece Spee expected to return, 'Quins show have enough here to rattle up their fourth win from six.
Previous Meetings: 01/02: -; 02/03: Belfast Harlequins 14 Galwegians 24; 03/04: Galwegians 12 Belfast Harlequins 47; 04/05: Belfast Harlequins 68 Galwegians 10.
2005/06 Form: Harlequins: LWWWL; Galwegians: LLLWL
Top Scorers: Harlequins: Michael Glancy 62; Galwegians: John Cleary 12
AIL Odds: Harlequins 12/1, Galwegians 150/1 (Paddy Power)
Blackrock College (10th) v Buccaneers (6th), Stradbrook
Two of the top flight's most inconsistent sides meet in the capital, but, in fairness, Geoff Moylan's Buccaneers should be the more buoyant having won three of their last four league encounters.
The past four seasons have also see Buccs beat 'Rock three times and with the Dubliners without a win in the current campaign since back in October, an away victory looks on the cards.
Expect Buccs full-back Tom Cregan and 'Rock fly-half Paddy O'Toole to engage in a place-kicking battle. The Buccs pack could prove the key to unlocking win number four for the sixth-placed Pirates.
Recent Meetings: 01/02: Blackrock 26 Buccaneers 31; 02/03: Buccaneers 11 Blackrock 29; 03/04: Blackrock 13 Buccaneers 19; 04/05: Buccaneers 27 Blackrock 6.
2005/06 Form: Blackrock: WWDLL; Buccaneers: LWWLW
Top Scorers: Blackrock: Paddy O'Toole 48; Buccaneers: Tom Cregan 63
AIL Odds: Blackrock 80/1, Buccaneers 20/1 (Paddy Power)
Clontarf (5th) v Cork Constitution (3rd), Castle Avenue
A hard place to come to if you are defending an unbeaten record. Cork Constitution will put their perfect five-for-five run on the line at Castle Avenue this afternoon, also in the hope of making it three league wins in a row against 'Tarf.
The North Dubliners have stuttered in recent weeks losing to UL Bohs and Dungannon and most recently, to Buccaneers (16-10) despite outscoring last week's hosts by two tries to one.
'Tarf fly-half Peter O'Brien had a poor day with the boot and if the home side are to live with Brian Walsh's Con outfit then they will have to take every available point. Almost ominously, Con winger Cronan Healy has come into form in recent weeks - watch out Shannon in next weekend's AIB Cup first round tie - and the bald-headed winger had a hand in three of Con's five tries against Lansdowne (33-23) seven days ago, scoring one himself in the second half.
Recent Meetings: 01/02: Cork Con 18 Clontarf 8; 02/03: Clontarf 30 Cork Con 10; 03/04: Clontarf 26 Cork Con 29; 04/05: Cork Con 19 Clontarf 9.
2005/06 Form: Clontarf: WLLWL; Cork Con: WWWWW
Top Scorers: Clontarf: Peter O'Brien 37; Cork Con: Conor Quaid 41
AIL Odds: Clontarf 10/1, Cork Con 11/4 (Paddy Power)
County Carlow (15th) v UL Bohemians (12th), Oak Park
Only the second league meeting between these sides in recent seasons. Carlow, second-from-bottom, will be itching to take to the Oak Park sward having had their game with Dublin University postponed last week due to an unplayable pitch in the capital.
Kiwi coach David Hodge will be hoping the midlanders can chalk up their first league win after four successive defeats. Bohs, the reigning Division Two champions, are proving sticky opposition so far in the top flight - Con (23-21 winners), Clontarf (29-28 losers) and Blackrock (20-20 draw) all found the Limerick students tough to handle.
Hodge's cosmopolitan bunch, with four Polish players thrown into the mix, have yet to truly gel together but perhaps today is the day, with the free weekend's chance to iron things out, that Carlow, the league's outsiders at 500/1, break their duck.
Recent Meetings: 01/02: -; 02/03: UL Bohs 26 Carlow 41; 03/04: -; 04/05: -.
2005/06 Form: Carlow: LLLL; UL Bohs: LWDLL
Top Scorers: Carlow: Greg Jacob 29; UL Bohs: Fergal Lawlor 25
AIL Odds: Carlow 500/1, UL Bohs 150/1 (Paddy Power)
Garryowen (2nd) v Dungannon (8th), Dooradoyle
Garryowen, another of the Munster cartel at the top of Division One, welcome Dungannon to Dooradoyle with a busy festive period ahead of them.
Paul Cunningham's side take on Dolphin in the first round of the inaugural AIB Cup next Saturday and are due to play Shannon the Munster ODM Senior Cup semi-finals on New Year's Eve. Will they take their eye off league matters this afternoon? Probably not, the visit of a star-laden 'Gannon back and a not too shabby backline, marshalled by former Ireland Under-21 captain Gareth Steenson, will keep them occupied today.
Jeremy Davidson's outfit rarely tested Shannon in last week's 27-0 defeat with Ulster winger Tyrone Howe their only scoring threat out wide. Garryowen, with the steadying aid of Munster's Rob Henderson and Paul Burke in their backline, ran in four tries for a 28-12 win against UL Bohs, seven days ago, and any evidence of that form should see them to a sixth win here.
Recent Meetings: 01/02: Garryowen 23 Dungannon 13; 02/03: Dungannon 15 Garryowen 13; 03/04: Garryowen 21 Dungannon 8; 04/05: Dungannon 21 Garryowen 24.
2005/06 Form: Garryowen: WWWWW; Dungannon: WLWWL
Top Scorers: Garryowen: Conor Kilroy 27; Dungannon: Gareth Steenson 51
AIL Odds: Garryowen 9/2, Dungannon 22/1 (Paddy Power)
Shannon (1st) v Ballymena (14th), Thomond Park
Ballymena coach Steph Nel has warned his pack "to take on more responsability" on the field and they will need to do exactly that today as they pay Thomond Park a visit in desperate need of some match points.
The Braidmen chalked up win number one for the season last weekend to lift themselves from bottom to third-from-bottom. Blackrock were seen off by a mere five points - 24-19 - but anything will do for Nel as the season nears its midpoint.
The South African can call on top-scoring Zimbabwean full-back Dirkie Strydom and Ulster players Andy Maxwell, Scott Young and Paddy Wallave in the backs but up front, a number of players need to raise their game.
Especially as the champions' forwards are in such good form. Shannon coach Mick Galwey has been including a few youngsters in his pack of late with Munster's Celtic League Heineken Cup campaigns on-going, and it has been heartening to see teenage hooker Sean Cronin and young locks Donnacha Ryan and Padraic O'Brien come to the fore. Of course, it helps when you have the hugely under-rated John O'Connor and his flanker partner Eddie Halvey, the former Irish international, about.
Behind the scrum, league veteran Andrew Thompson seems to get better with age - already this season's top scorer with 69 points in five games, the ageless fly-half has been pin-point accurate with his line-kicking and goal shots. Shannon kept Dungannon to '0' points last Saturday - Ballymena will probably fare better with Strydom about, but not well enough.
Recent Meetings: 02/03: Ballymena 14 Shannon 13; 03/04: Shannon 27 Ballymena 37; 04/05: Ballymena 27 Shannon 31.
2005/06 Form: Shannon: WWWWW; Ballymena: LLLLW
Top Scorers: Shannon: Andrew Thompson 69; Ballymena: Dirkie Strydom 41
AIL Odds: Shannon 5/4fav, Ballymena 50/1 (Paddy Power)
St Mary's College (9th) v Lansdowne (11th), Templeville Road
The Dublin rivals resume their battle following Mary's sojourn in Division Two last season. A tightly-contested game can be expected but both sides' results have been poles apart since the league started in October.
Mary's began with two defeats but have regrouped well, with Leinster and Ireland Under-21 fly-half Jonathan Sexton bubbling to the surface, to record three wins on the trot. Sexton bagged 15 points in last week's 20-18 success against Harlequins.
Lansdowne, on the other hand, have been on a slippery slope of late, losing their last three games including last week's 33-23 defeat at the hands of Cork Con. All that means that Lansdowne, whose Kiwi fly-half Corey Burt has scored 59 of their 84 points so far, are two places and four points behind ninth-placed Mary's.
History is on the visitors' side today, at least. Lansdowne have won their last three league meetings with Mary's, and player-coaches Brian O'Meara and Liam Toland could decide to start themselves again, as they did against Con.
Recent Meetings: 01/02: Lansdowne 17 St Mary's 14; 02/03: St Mary's 27 Lansdowne 36; 03/04: Lansdowne 29 St Mary's 10; 04/05: -.
2005/06 Form: St Mary's: LLWWW; Lansdowne: WWLLL
Top Scorers: St Mary's: Jonathan Sexton 44; Lansdowne: Corey Burt 59
AIL Odds: St Mary's 40/1, Lansdowne 66/1 (Paddy Power)