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AIB League: Play-Off Race Hotting Up

AIB League: Play-Off Race Hotting Up

Saturday sees the fourth last round of AIB League action before April’s Divisional semi-finals – it could be now or never for some of the likely top-four players?

Saturday sees the fourth last round of AIB League action before April’s Divisional semi-finals – it could be now or never for some of the likely top-four players?

Ballymena are one such team. Steph Nel’s side line out at Lansdowne Road, eight points off fourth-placed Belfast Harlequins (28 points), but gunning for a third-straight win.

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Their opposition – Lansdowne – are still without a win in 2005 and fighting relegation, and with Saturday’s visitors welcoming back Ireland Under-21 Andrew Trimble – their top try scorer with six – Andy Doyle’s men could be in for a long afternoon.

Ireland Under-21 assistant coach Brian Walsh will be back in tandem with Cork Constitution as his charges seek to boost their play-off hopes.

Two wins on-the-trot and eleven tries in the process have the 2004 beaten finalists back challenging, and a trip to struggling Blackrock should be negotiated.

Just as ‘Rock have wandered southwards in the standings, so too have ninth-placed Buccaneers. Downed 29-20 by UCD last time out – their fourth straight defeat – John McKee’s men are up against high-flyers Belfast Harlequins.

Not an ideal situation, but Dungannon worried ‘Quins in the Ulster Senior Cup last weekend, before losing a three-point decision. The Deramore Park advantage should be enough for ‘Quins though, who will formally unveil Ulster back row Andy Ward as their replacement for departing Director of rugby Andre Bester before kick-off.

The Kiwi-born 34-year-old – who retires from representative rugby at the end of this season – has signed a three-year deal, and will begin his reign on June 1.

Elsewhere in the top flight, leaders Clontarf should have enough in their armoury to defeat a UCD side minus their Leinster-tied back line gems Christian Warner, James Norton and scrum-half Brian O’Riordan.

Bottom side County Carlow gained 13 penalty awards out of nineteen against Shannon in their 17-7 loss at the start of the month, but crucially fell off in the final quarter against the champions. Coach Ray Ward will surely not tolerate just such an effort in their relegation ”eight-pointer” against third-from-bottom Galwegians at Crowley Park.

Shannon themselves, have reeled in eighteen league points in their last four outings and should account for tenth-ranked Dungannon at Thomond Park, while Tony Smeeth’s Dublin University – who had a Philip Howard-inspired try wrongly ruled-out in their 19-all draw with ‘Rock a fortnight ago – will hope for a change of luck against Garryowen at College Park.

AIB League Fixtures: Saturday, February 19 (kick-off 2.30pm, unless stated)


Belfast Harlequins v Buccaneers, Deramore Park
Blackrock College v Cork Constitution, Stradbrook
Clontarf v UCD, Castle Avenue
Dublin University v Garryowen, College Park
Galwegians v County Carlow, Crowley Park
Lansdowne v Ballymena, Lansdowne Road
Shannon v Dungannon, Thomond Park


Barnhall v De La Salle Palmerston, Parsonstown
Malone v UCC, Gibson Park
Old Crescent v Ballynahinch, Rosbrien
St Mary’s College v Midleton, Templeville Road
Terenure College v Thomond, Lakelands Park
Young Munster v Old Belvedere, Tom Clifford Park


Ards v Banbridge, Hamilton Park
Greystones v Connemara, Dr Hickey Park
Old Wesley v City of Derry, Donnybrook
Queen’s University v Instonians, Dub Lane
Skerries v Corinthians, Holmpatrick
Sunday’s Well v Ballina, Musgrave Park
Suttonians v Bruff, John J MacDowell Park
Wanderers v Portadown, Lansdowne Road back pitch

Sunday, February 20: (kick-off 2.30pm)


Bective Rangers v Highfield, Donnybrook
Dolphin v UL Bohemian, Musgrave Park