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UL BOHEMIANS (9th) v SHANNON (10th), Thomond Park, Friday, January 4, 7.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season's Form - UL Bohemians: LWLWLLL; Shannon: LLLLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers - UL Bohemians: Points: JJ Hanrahan 39; Tries: Rory White 3; Shannon: Points; Rob Guerin 37; Tries: John Shine 2
Preview: Yet again, a Limerick derby with a lot at stake. Only this time Friday night's Thomond Park encounter is at the wrong end of the table.
It is a case of second-from-bottom UL Bohs facing Shannon who are last. What is more, Shannon are eight points adrift of their nearest rivals with just two losing bonus points to show for their efforts in their seven games to date.
UL are in much better shape on the 10-point mark but things have not gone well for them lately. Their most recent 19-9 home defeat by Dolphin was particularly disappointing.
They will be looking to JJ Hanrahan, if available, and Ben Martin to bring about an improvement. Shannon, after putting up a respectable show when losing 23-15 away to Cork Constitution, are clearly not without a chance of getting that elusive first victory.
Recent League Meetings - Saturday, October 31, 2009: Shannon 38 UL Bohemians 19, Coonagh; Saturday, January 23, 2010: UL Bohemians 11 Shannon 17, Thomond Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win by 6-10 points
CORK CONSTITUTION (4th) v GARRYOWEN (1st), Temple Hill
Ulster Bank League Season's Form - Cork Constitution: WLWWWLW; Garryowen: WWWLWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers - Cork Constitution: Points: Johnny Holland 45; Tries: Darragh Lyons, Ivan Dineen, Gerry Hurley 3 each; Garryowen: Points: Jamie Gavin 89; Tries: Barry O'Mahony 4
Preview: This should be a smashing game between two of the top four teams. Leaders Garryowen have done precious little wrong to date having won six of their seven games.
But taking on Cork Constitution at Temple Hill represents a huge test. The home side will be very keen to win as a defeat would mean a sizeable gap opens up between them and Garryowen.
Constitution's more recent league form has been erratic, losing heavily away to Old Belvedere before accounting for Shannon.
Their head coach Brian Walsh will appreciate that a further improvement will be needed against the league leaders.
No doubt, the two place-kickers will have a big impact. Jamie Gavin has been in tremendous form for Garryowen, while Johnny Holland has also been a major figure for Cork Con.
Recent League Meetings - Saturday, October 29, 2011: Cork Constitution 9 Garryowen 13, Temple Hill; Saturday, April 14, 2012: Garryowen 20 Cork Constitution 21, Dooradoyle
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cork Constitution to win by 1-5 points
LANSDOWNE (2nd) v DOLPHIN (5th), Aviva Stadium back pitch, 2pm
Ulster Bank League Season's Form - Lansdowne: WWWLWWL; Dolphin: LWWWLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers - Lansdowne: Points: Craig Ronaldson 81; Tries: Cian Aherne 8; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 69; Tries: Harry Fleming 2
Preview: An important match for second-placed Lansdowne after going down 16-15 to Young Munster last time out.
What is more, they were subsequently beaten 32-20 by St. Mary's College in the Leinster Senior League Cup final. So, head coach Mike Ruddock badly needs his team to return to the sort of form which saw them head the table until recently.
Obviously, playing at home on the artificial pitch at the Aviva Stadium will help their ambitions, as will the return of some of their top players, notably John Cooney at scrum half. Last season they proved much too strong for Dolphin at their home venue, winning 38-21.
Dolphin, however, should not be underestimated. They lie in fifth spot, just five points behind Lansdowne, and will definitely not be lacking in determination.
Recent League Meetings - Saturday, November 5, 2011: Lansdowne 38 Dolphin 21, Aviva Stadium back pitch; Saturday, March 24, 2012: Dolphin 23 Lansdowne 30, Musgrave Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win by 10+ points
ST. MARY'S COLLEGE (8th) v CLONTARF (6th), Templeville Road
Ulster Bank League Season's Form - St. Mary's College: WLLLLWL; Clontarf: LLWWLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers - St. Mary's College: Points: Gavin Dunne 28; Tries: Robbie Hudson, Kevin Croke 2 each; Clontarf: Points: Richie Lane 63; Tries: Timmy McCoy 4
Preview: An intriguing match between the two dominant sides in last season's competition. Somehow, the holders St. Mary's find themselves in a precarious position, third from bottom.
But there have been signs of improvement. Their supporters, for instance, must hope that their excellent Leinster Senior League Cup final victory over Lansdowne will signal a major change in their fortunes.
Interestingly, they included Jerry Sexton, younger brother of international out-half Jonathan, in their second row. For their part, Clontarf seem to be back on song after a poor opening to their campaign.
They will certainly feel that they are due a victory against St. Mary's having suffered narrow defeats twice to them last season. If they could manage it, they may well get back up near the top end of the table.
Recent League Meetings - Saturday, December 3, 2011: St. Mary's College 22 Clontarf 20, Templeville Road; Saturday, April 14, 2012: Clontarf 12 St. Mary's College 18, Castle Avenue
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win by 6-10 points
YOUNG MUNSTER (3rd) v OLD BELVEDERE (7th), Tom Clifford Park
Ulster Bank League Season's Form - Young Munster: WWLLWLW; Old Belvedere: LLLWWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers - Young Munster: Points: Brian Haugh 73; Tries: Mark Doyle, Darragh O'Neill, Dom Lespierre 2 each; Old Belvedere: Points: Josh Glynn 36; Tries: Daniel Riordan 6
Preview: It is important for third-placed Young Munster to follow up their outstanding victory over Lansdowne with another home success against Old Belvedere.
Although flying wing Dom Lespierre got a sensational match-winning try, it was their defence which was the most important factor in the victory over Lansdowne. Young Munster showed the sort of spirit which the club has become famous for.
Their boss Mike Prendergast is also doing a useful job after switching to out-half. But Prendergast will know that Old Belvedere are well capable of recording a surprise victory, particularly as captain Daniel Riordan is in top form at full-back.
They did, after all, humiliate Cork Con a few matches back and went very close to beating Clontarf away last time out.
Recent League Meetings - Saturday, October 1, 2011: Young Munster 23 Old Belvedere 19, Tom Clifford Park; Saturday, March 3, 2012: Old Belvedere 18 Young Munster 19, Anglesea Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Young Munster to win by 1-5 points