This season’s IRFU Junior Interprovincial Championship will come to a close this weekend and there is likely to be drama right up until the final minutes. Three provinces – the defending champions Leinster and Connacht and Ulster – are still in the running to take the title.
2008/09 IRFU JUNIOR INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, May 9
ROUND 3 FIXTURES –
Connacht v Munster, Corrib RFC, 2.30pm
Leinster v Ulster, Tullamore RFC, 2.30pm
Leinster currently lie at the top of the table on eight points, thanks to two tight wins over Munster and Connacht and home advantage could prove crucial for the title holders when they bid to make it three out of three against Ulster at Tullamore RFC.
For Saturday’s decisive clash, the Bernard Smyth-led Leinster side shows just one change to the team that outlasted Connacht in Navan last weekend.
The eastern province’s starting team and replacements has representatives from 11 different clubs, including AIB Junior Cup-winning half-backs Gearoid O’Grady and Richie Hughes who will be playing on their home pitch.
Another win for Leinster would be a fantastic boost for junior rugby in the province and complete two back-to-back unbeaten campaigns in the Junior Interpro series. Supporters are urged to come down and support the Blues at Spollanstown.
Their opponents Ulster still have title aspirations, following last weekend’s 20-9 defeat of Munster in Lisburn.
Ulster manager John Todd has announced a strong team for the province’s final game of the Championship.
The two Johnnys from Armagh, Messrs Steenson and Allen, could have important roles to play as Ulster look to claim the match points.
If they do so and deny Leinster a losing point and Munster manage to beat Connacht in the other game, the trophy will be heading north.
LEINSTER: Karl Manning (Navan); Stephen McGee (Dundalk), Aaron Deverell (Tullamore), Daragh Fitzgerald (Railway Union), Kevin O’Brien (Railway Union); Gearoid O’Grady (Tullamore), Richie Hughes (Tullamore); Richie Bond (Portlaoise), James Clifford (Monkstown), Eoin King (Navan), Ronan Bolger (Tullow), Donal Milne (Tullamore), Nico Vorster (Boyne), Ross McAuley (Skerries), Bernard Smyth (Navan) (capt).
Replacements: John Baker (Navan), Ciaran Brannigan (Dundalk), David Hanlon (Tullamore), Mark Petriw (Portarlington), Niall O’Donoghue (Coolmine), Jamie Kavanagh (Portlaoise), Mark Harrington (Navan).
ULSTER: Johnny Steenson (Armagh); Josh Lewis (City of Derry), Johnny Allen (Armagh), Greg Mitchell (City of Derry), James Clelland (Ballymoney); Michael McComb (CIYMS), Adam Bartholomew (Armagh) (capt); James Carson (Ballymoney), James Johnston (Armagh), Philip Moore (Clogher Valley), Aidy Graham (Ballymoney), David Sharkey (Clogher Valley), Willie McCollum (Limavady), Steven Dickie (Coleraine), James Morton (Armagh)
Replacements: Gavin Armstrong (Lisburn), Gareth Beattie (Enniskillen), Johnny Keith (Cooke), Barry John Wilson (Clogher Valley), Johnny Hunter (Limavady), Mark O’Connor (City of Derry), Eddie McLaughlin (Limavady).
Corrib RFC’s grounds in Headford will be the venue for Connacht’s final game of the Championship against Munster.
There is one change to the westerners’ team. Corrib’s own Tomas Lee, who came on as a replacement last week against Leinster and scored a try, keeps his place with Westport’s Danny O’Toole, who also touched down against Leinster, unfortunate to lose out.
Connacht can still win the Interpro crown, which would be their first, should they beat Munster and the result of the Leinster v Ulster tie go their way.
Coached by Seamus King and Eddie Walsh and managed by Mick Turley, Connacht have real strenght in depth in this year’s Junior squad.
The management have instilled a team spirit and work ethic that has lifted them to be title contenders on the last day.
A very solid pack at scrum time plus excellent lieout jumpers in Willie Parker of Monivea and Liam Scahill of Westport will ensure that Connacht have an edge up front which should provide enough quality ball to a talented back-line which includes the Connacht Junior League’s top scorer in Dave Prior of OLBC, experienced captain Kevin Higgins of Monivea and flying winger Kevin Corcoran of Westport.
Half-backs Mick Murphy of Ballina and Ger O’Connor have gelled very well together during this series and O’Connor’s place-kicking could prove crucial on Saturday.
No further motivation than winning a Championship will be needed when the team take the field but the host club’s Alan Bane, Martin Lee, Tomas Lee and Dara Higgins will certainly be eager to impress on their home pitch.
Munster, coached by Kevin O’Dwyer, John Lillis and Martin Brislane, have yet to confirm their team for the Headford clash but with 16 newcomers to this level this season, they are improving every week and a tight game is expected.
CONNACHT: Kevin Higgins (Monivea) (capt); Kevin Corcoran (Westport), Dave Prior (OLBC), Paul Cody (Castlebar), Tomas Lee (Corrib); Ger O’Connor (Monivea), Mike Murphy (Ballina); Alan Bane (Corrib), Martin Lee (Corrib), Tom Toolan (Ballina), Willie Parker (Monivea), Liam Scahill (Westport), Ger Kelly (Dunmore), Enda Murphy (Castlebar), Eoin Rooney (Monivea).
Replacements (from): Pat Mullins (Loughrea), Brian Murphy (Loughrea), Mike Ward (Tuam), Luke Murphy (UCG), Mark Staunton (Castlebar), Danny O’Toole (Westport), Robbie Kavanagh (Tuam), Eoin Cosgrove (Tuam), Ger Divilly (Monivea), Dara Higgins (Corrib), Liam Molloy (Castlebar).
MUNSTER Squad: Backs (12) – John Long (Clonmel), David Joyce (Clonmel), John O’Sullivan (Skibbereen), Rory Geary (Cobh Pirates), Eamon Ronan (Cobh Pirates), David Murphy (Ennis), John Keehan (Kilfeacle), Andrew Cashman (Mallow), Adam O’Loughlin (Carrick-on-Suir), Shane Moloney (Thurles), Mark Butler (Thurles), Diarmuid O’Connor (Cashel).
Forwards (15) – Sean O’Neill (Skibbereen), Sean O’Mahoney (Tralee), Shane O’Callaghan (Tralee), Phil Corby (Clonmel), John Long (Clonmel), Donagh Murphy (Crosshaven), Paul Memory (Crosshaven), Barry Wright (Kinsale), Darren Gallagher (Richmond), Damien Gavin (Kilfeacle), Ger Luby (Kilfeacle) (capt), Stephan Flood (Kilfeacle), Cillian Casey (Cobh Pirates), JJ Frahill (Cobh Pirates), Stephan Ryan (St. Senan’s).
RESULTS SO FAR:
ROUND 1 –
Munster 9 Leinster 10, Nenagh Ormond RFC
Connacht 18 Ulster 17, Ballyhaunis RFC
ROUND 2 –
Ulster 20 Munster 9, Lisburn RFC
Leinster 20 Connacht 18, Navan RFC