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Added Spice In Division Two Decider

Added Spice In Division Two Decider

Fittingly, the teams that finished first and second in the Division Two table – Old Belvedere and Greystones – will contest Saturday’s final at Templeville Road.

AIB LEAGUE DIVISION TWO FINAL: Saturday, April 28

OLD BELVEDERE v GREYSTONES, Templeville Road, St. Mary’s College RFC, 4pm

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Not only is this the first ever all-Leinster Division Two decider, it is also the first time either club has reached the second tier final, and there is added spice with Belvedere player-coach Richie Murphy trying to down his former club.

Indeed, Murphy, a former ‘Stones stalwart, works closely with the County Wicklow side’s current coach Colin McEntee in their capacities as Leinster Rugby’s Elite Player Manager and Academy Manager respectively.

Throw in the fact that the clubs have already played each other twice this season, with Belvedere winning both ties by a total of three points, and you get a sense of just how titanic a tussle lays ahead.

With promotion out of the way, both sides have silverware in their sights and Saturday afternoon’s journey to Dublin 6W will be far more than a reconnaissance visit to the home of St. Mary’s College RFC.

Belvedere spent three seasons in Division One, between 1995 and 1998, but seem as well equipped now for top flight rugby, with New Zealand-born director of rugby Mike O’Donovan guiding them to 15 straight league wins this season since their opening day defeat to Dublin University.

Captained by Glasgow lock Scott Hutton, Belvedere captured the Leddin Finance Leinster Senior Cup in November, beating Clontarf 19-16 in the Donnybrook final, and benefit from the services of a couple of Leinster-capped players – out-half Andy Dunne and lock Richie Leyden – as well as Polish international prop Marcin Wilczuk.

Last weekend’s hard-fought 23-21 league semi-final win over Young Munster will also stand the Dublin 4 club in good stead. They boast a pacy back line, from which former Ireland Under-21 squad member Kevin Barden has emerged as a winger with excellent finishing skills – his 14 league tries this term are testament to that.

But their pack have become a force to be reckoned with too, showing plenty of steel as the Dubliners picked up five wins from five visits to Munster this season. Belvedere mean business, as Murphy surmised: “Over the last number of years, Old Belvedere has under-achieved, and that’s the way it has been looked at in the club. We’re nine years out of Division One now.

“We brought in quite a young coaching staff, we’ve built a good team spirit in building the team, and that’s really what’s seen us through.”

History is not on Greystones’ side – the Wicklow men have lost five of their previous seven league clashes with Belvedere – but their recent league final experience (they beat Ards (2004) and Instonians (2005) to lift successive Division Three titles) is a real bonus for them.

Assisted by South African Henrik Kruger and former Irish international Kurt McQuilkin, coach McEntee has a young and talented squad at his disposal, with flanker Rob Connolly, the Leinster Club Player of the Year in 2005, fleet-footed winger Ronan Carroll, who has touched down 15 times in the league campaign, and industrious number eight John O’Beirne the pick of the bunch.

‘Stones have plenty of firepower out wide – as well as Carroll, David McKechnie and Stuart O’Connell, with 46 tries between them during the 2004/05 and 05/06 seasons, certainly know where the try line is.

It has been 13 years since Greystones last graced Division One and they will want to go up as champions. Their will to win is unquestioned – they launched an excellent fight-back to beat Clonakilty 18-14 last Saturday and in James Power, the son of Greystones legend Pierce, they have a very able out-half and place kicker.

Saturday’s game marks the Dr. Hickey Park residents’ 225th outing in AIB League history (they have played more league matches than any other Irish club), while Belvedere are searching for their 100th league win.

It was 16-15 in Belvedere’s favour when the sides met at Dr. Hickey Park on a cold day in January. Chances are there will just be a kick of the ball between them again this weekend.

IrishRugby.ie verdict: Greystones to win