5 Dec, 14:49
The Ireland Under-19 squad to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill on Saturday week (December 14) has been announced.
A lively encounter should ensue at Dubarry Park where Buccs will be doubly determined to succeed. Three losses from three has seen last season's semi-finalists slip down towards mid-table, and it's a must-win game from their current perch of sixth - 10 points behind fourth-ranked Garryowen.
Veteran prop Martin Cahill has been one of their star performers so far, topping the try scoring charts with two, while up until last week's four-try loss at Clontarf, John McKee's side were one of the best defences in the country - conceding just six tries in seven games.
Buccs are sure to have a number of their Connacht contingent available but the students - five points ahead of their hosts, and still without a bonus point - may just outgun the Pirates with backs of the calibre of Leinster's Christian Warner and James Norton, and also five-try full-back Ross McCarron.
Belfast Harlequins coach Andre Bester backed his fly-half Ian Humphreys to become just as good as his international brother David, following last Saturday's 68-10 hammering of Galwegians - Quins' sixth straight win.
The 23-year-old will have his work cut out at Eaton Park this weekend though, as Ballymena host them in a tantalising Ulster derby. Steph Nel's men halted the concession of 12 tries in their last three games, by earning a shutout in their 17-9 defeat of UCD.
Not that the Braidmen haven't been scoring them - Andrew Trimble leads the way on 6, with Andy Maxwell, Matt Waterhouse and Dirkie Strydom also on form.
Quins will be without five Ireland Under 21 players - including wingers Tommy Bowe and Paul McKenzie.
Elsewhere in the top flight, another defeat could see Dublin University hit rock bottom at Blackrock. Tony Smeeth's edged champions Shannon 11-0 in the second half at Thomond Park, but it proved not enough.
County Carlow will probably have to hold the same reign over the Shannon machine if they are to prevail at Oak Park. A hefty reliance on Richie Murphy's right boot - a contributor of 81 of their 119 points - will see coach Ray Ward demand his side's best performance of the season.
It's heads up and on our own turf. If we are to compete against Shannon, we must ensure we can do it for the full 80 minutes, warned the midlanders boss.
Seventh-placed Dungannon got their play-off bid back on track last time out, beating Blackrock 17-10. Without top-scoring fly-half Gareth Steenson and number eight Stephen Ferris this time - both away with the Under 21s - they may struggle to overcome a resurgent Garryowen, even on their home patch at Stevenson Park.
A point behind Gannon, Cork Con are able to call again on their Munster representatives - Jim Williams, John Kelly, David Pusey and Tom Bowman - for the visit of Lansdowne to Temple Hill. While fourth-from-bottom Galwegians will be glad to be back at Crowley Park, having failed to better their road record of two wins from eight against Quins. Saturday's opposition - Clontarf - are seeking a sixteenth win from 22 outings against Connacht sides.
AIB League: Fixtures: Saturday, February 5 (ko 2.30pm, unless stated)
Ballymena v Belfast Harlequins, Eaton Park Blackrock College v Dublin University, Stradbrook Buccaneers v UCD, Dubarry Park County Carlow v Shannon, Oak Park Cork Constitution v Lansdowne, Temple Hill Dungannon v Garryowen, Stevenson Park Galwegians v Clontarf, Crowley Park
Ballynahinch v St Mary's College, Ballymacarn Park Bective Rangers v Malone, Donnybrook De La Salle Palmerston v Old Crescent, Kilternan Dolphin v Waterpark, Musgrave Park Highfield v Barnhall, Woodleigh Park Midleton v UCC, Towns Park Old Belvedere v Terenure College, Anglesea Road Thomond v Young Munster, Fitzgerald Park
Ballina v Greystones, Heffernan Park Banbridge v Sunday's Well, Rifle Park Bruff v Ards, Kilballyowen Park City of Derry v Queen's University, Judge's Road Clonakilty v Wanderers, Shannonvale Cross Corinthians v Suttonians, Corinthian Park Instonians v Skerries, Shaw's Bridge Portadown v Old Wesley, Chambers Park