Leinster and Ulster Ravens face into two top of the table clashes in the British & Irish Cup this weekend, with Newport visiting Donnybrook and London Welsh being hosted at Ravenhill. Meanwhile, Pool B leaders Munster are on the road to Neath.
BRITISH & IRISH CUP: ROUND 4:
Friday, February 26 –
LEINSTER (1st) v NEWPORT (2nd), Donnybrook, 6pm
British & Irish Cup Current Form – Leinster: WWW; Newport: WDW
British & Irish Cup Top Scorers – Leinster: Points: Shaun Berne 30; Tries: David Kearney 2; Newport: Points: Gareth Wyatt 15; Tries: Gareth Wyatt 3
Preview/Team News: The top two teams in Pool A of the British & Irish Cup clash head on at Doonybrook.
Leinster have a 100% winning record in the British & Irish Cup with three wins out of three, despite scoring just four tries and conceding four tries.
Colin McEntee’s men have beaten Plymouth and Exeter away from home and Cornish Pirates at Donnybrook so far.
Newport lie in fourth spot in the Welsh Principality Premiership. Newport’s five-match winning run in all competitions ended when they were knocked out of the Swalec Cup at home to Cardiff last Saturday.
Stephen Keogh leads an experienced Leinster side which includes Ireland international forwards Trevor Hogan and Mike Ross as well as Ireland ‘A’ internationals Chris Keane, Simon Keogh, Ronan McCormack, Fergus McFadden and Devin Toner.
McFadden forms an exciting centre partnership with Eoin O’Malley, while Michael Keating comes onto the right wing for his third appearance in the British & Irish Cup.
Meanwhile, Stan Wright and Paul O’Donohoe have been included on a strong replacements bench.
Leinster’s British & Irish Cup backs coach Richie Murphy said: “The senior players are giving great guidance to the Academy players who in turn are being given a greater insight into the demands of professional rugby.
“The guys are getting used to the pace of the game at this level and it is a welcome bridge between the AIB League and Magners League competitions.
“If you look at the form of the likes of Paul O’Donohoe and Eoin O’Malley in the Exeter win, they followed that up with selection for the victory over the Scarlets last weekend.
“So the carrot is there for the up-and-coming players to play well and push for selection for the senior squad.
“With Andrew Conway also making his debut (in that game), that provides the younger players with added motivation to impress.”
Entry to Friday’s game is free for Leinster Season Ticket holders and children and only €;10 for adults on Friday.
A limited number of discounted tickets are available for supporters to purchase in advance for only €;5 from Spar Donnybrook.
There will be a voucher for the first 250 people in the gate and this can be redeemed against one of a selection of items in the Old Wesley Bar, including Guinness, tea or coffee (first come, first served).
LEINSTER (v Newport): Niall Morris, Michael Keating, Eoin O’Malley, Fergus McFadden, Simon Keogh; Ian Madigan, Chris Keane; Ronan McCormack, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Trevor Hogan, Devin Toner, Eoin Sheriff, Paul Ryan, Stephen Keogh (capt).
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Stan Wright, Ciaran Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Paul O’Donohoe, Kyle Tonetti, Shane Monahan.
Referee: Keith Lewis (England)
ULSTER RAVENS (2nd) v LONDON WELSH (1st), Ravenhill 7.30pm
British & Irish Cup Current Form – Ulster Ravens: WWD; London Welsh: WWW
British & Irish Cup Top Scorers – Ulster Ravens: Points: Niall O’Connor 27; Tries: Tommy Seymour 2; London Welsh: Points: Ed Lewis-Pratt 27; Tries: Tom Brown, Paul Sampson 4 each
Preview/Team News: The top two sides in Pool C meet head on at Ravenhill. Ulster Ravens continue to push the
leaders all the way in Pool C of the British & Irish Cup.
The Ulstermen, coached by Neil Doak, won their opening two encounters with Bedford Blues and Moseley and drew 21-21 at Llanelli in round three.
London Welsh, who lie in third spot in the English Championship, are the only side left in the British & Irish Cup with maximum points from three successive bonus point victories over Moseley, Aberavon and Bedford.
The Ravens will be captained by hooker Nigel Brady, a recent Ireland Wolfhounds debutant, in a front row which includes Ireland international duo Tom Court and Bryan Young.
The second row partnership of Ryan Caldwell and Neil McComb has been retained. In the back row, Willie Faloon replaces David Pollock at openside flanker.
The changes in the backs see Paul Marshall come in for Cillian Willis at scrum half and promising Belfast Harlequins centre Michael Allen get the nods at outside centre, with Mark McCrea switching to full-back.
An experienced replacements bench has been selected, including the likes of Ed O’Donoghue, Ian Humphreys and Darren Cave.
Commenting on his captaincy role and Friday’s game, Nigel Brady said: “I am delighted to be captain on Friday night, it is a massive game for us.
“We have to win, it’s as simple as that. We know London Welsh are a quality side, they are unbeaten in the competition, so this game will be our biggest challenge to date.
“It would be great to get a big turn-out on Friday night, and get the famous Ravenhill support behind us.
“We all know that we really need to make our home advantage count, and go all out to win the game. Both teams like to run the ball and play a bit of rugby, so it should be a good show.”
Ulster Rugby Season Ticket holders can use their exclusive discount for Friday’s game at Ravenhill.
Tickets for the Promenade, Terrace and Main Stand are priced at just £5 each for Season Ticket holders and any junior Season Ticket holders go free.
To avail of the exclusive discount; call into the Ravenhill Ticket Office (Monday to Thursday, 9am-5pm; Friday, 9am-4pm) or call the Ticket line on 028 90493 222, Option 2 (Monday to Friday, 9am-12pm).
The special Season Ticket offer is not available on the gates, tickets must be purchased before 4pm on Friday.
Tickets are also available for non-Season Ticket holders, priced at: £10 (adults) and £3 (children) for all areas.
Tickets are available from the Ravenhill Ticket Office (Monday to Thursday, 9am-5pm; Friday, 9am-4pm) and the Ticket line on 028 90493 222, Option 2 (Monday to Friday, 9am-12pm) or by clicking here.
Tickets will also be available to purchase on the gates at Ravenhill, from 6pm on Friday, priced at £10 for ddults and £3 for children.
ULSTER RAVENS (v London Welsh): Mark McCrea; Tommy Seymour, Michael Allen, Ian Whitten, Timoci Nagusa; Niall O’Connor, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Nigel Brady (capt), Bryan Young, Neil McComb, Ryan Caldwell, Thomas Anderson, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Alan Whitten, Ed O’Donoghue, David Pollock, Cillian Willis, Ian Humphreys, Darren Cave.
Referee: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Saturday, February 27 –
NEATH (5th) v MUNSTER (1st), The Gnoll, 2pm
British & Irish Cup Current Form – Neath: LLW; Munster: WWW
British & Irish Cup Top Scorers – Neath: Points: Arwel Thomas 9; Tries: Kevin Farrell, Craig Price, Gareth Gravell, Tom James, Haydn Pugh, Steve Thomas, Kevin James 1 each; Munster: Points: Declan Cusack 21; Tries: Duncan Williams, James Coughlan, Tom Gleeson, Ian Nagle, Dave Kilcoyne, Danny Barnes, Ronan O’Mahony 1 each
Preview/Team News: Neath are setting the pace in the Welsh Principality Premiership and have won six of their last
seven games in all competitions.
The Welshmen lost their opening two matches in the British & Irish Cup, to Bristol and Nottingham but travelled to Heriot’s in round three to win 38-21.
Munster have a 100% winning record in the British & Irish Cup, having already accounted for the three English sides in this pool: Coventry (20-13), Bristol (18-6) and Nottingham (18-3).
Fresh from helping Munster overcome Edinburgh in the Magners League, young Corkman Scott Deasy has been named in the province’s side for Saturday’s British & Irish Cup Pool B encounter with Neath.
Munster play what will perhaps be the defining game in their pool campaign when they take on Neath at the Gnoll.
Although retaining the core of the side that defeated Nottingham in Waterford last time out, this Munster side shows several changes with the pack being beefed up by the inclusion of New Zealander Nick Williams at number 8.
Cork Constitution clubmen Duncan Williams and Scott Deasy, who were unavailable last time out, have been included in the back-line, Deasy teaming up with Tom Gleeson in the centre.
Notably, talented out-half Jeremy Manning returns from injury to take his place on the bench.
It says it all about the competitiveness of this pool that despite three straight wins, Munster still have a lot to do if they are to make the semi-finals. And that ‘lot’ starts on Saturday at the famous Gnoll.
The Anthony Foley and Ian Costello-coached Munster outfit, unbeaten to date this season, take on a Neath side who, although languishing in fifth place in the table, could still qualify for the knock-out stages if they beat Munster and other results got their way.
Bristol (at home to Heriot’s) are in second place and trail Munster (13 points) by four points, but they can be expected to reap a full dividend and end the weekend with 14 points going into the final round of matches.
Third-placed Nottingham could also win with a bonus points, leaving them on 13 points, so at least Munster know exactly what they have to do in Wales.
Neath may have lost twice already in the inaugural British & Irish Cup, but they lead the Welsh Premiership currently and have won six of their last seven games.
Previewing Saturday’s encounter, Foley said: “Obviously we’re in a good position, top of the table. But one slip up and you mightn’t qualify out of your pool.
“With one team to qualify it’s a tough one to get out of and we’re very conscious of that going to the Gnoll. If we do do get a result, that’ll be impressive.
“Nick is coming back from injury and with the senior side have shipped a few injuries it’s an opportunity for Nick to get game-time and hopefully get back into the mix for Munster. We’re happy to give him that opportunity.
“Likewise Jeremy Manning on the bench. He’s coming back from long term injury, so it’s good see him back in the squad.
“Preparation was a bit disrupted this week with the weather. We had to go indoors on Tuesday and that’s not ideal.
“Got in a good bit of work today (Thursday) in Cork. Everyone is keen to play, we fly over tomorrow and looking forward to it.”
MUNSTER (v Neath): Danny Riordan; Danny Barnes, Tom Gleeson, Scott Deasy, Ciaran O’Boyle; Declan Cusack, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Sean Henry, Stephen Archer, Dave Foley, Ian Nagle, Shane Hassett, Peter O’Mahony (capt), Nick Williams.
Replacements: Ger Slattery, Pa O’Regan, Neville Melbourne, Ed Kelly, Conor Murray, Jeremy Manning, Ronan O’Mahony.
Referee: Llyr Apgeraint Roberts (England)