What a difference a year makes. This time last year Old Belvedere were chasing the league title which they eventually won. Now they face a probable relegation decider against fellow ‘old boys’ Blackrock College.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, February 4
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BLACKROCK COLLEGE (9th) v OLD BELVEDERE (10th), Stradbrook
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Blackrock College: LLLWLLLWLL; Old Belvedere: LLLLDLLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Blackrock College: Points: Darragh Fitzpatrick 75; Tries: Darragh Fitzpatrick 3; Old Belvedere: Points: Andy Dunne 34; Tries: Peter Woods 4
Preview: A relegation battle that neither side can afford to lose. More so the defending champions Old Belvedere because they currently prop up the table, four points adrift of hosts Blackrock College.
Almost certainly, Old Belvedere will see this as their best chance to record that long overdue win. When the sides met at Anglesea Road in October, Blackrock just got the better of their rivals 26-23.
It is sure to be close again, particularly with so much at stake. Blackrock will be looking to their out-half Darragh Fitzpatrick and home advantage to give them an edge.
If Belvedere are to succeed, they must get a better forwards platform than last weekend when they were absolutely demolished by St. Mary’s in the scrums. Then again, Blackrock’s pack is not anything like as strong as St. Mary’s one.
Most Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 5, 2011: Old Belvedere 10 Blackrock College 9, Anglesea Road; Friday, October 28, 2011: Old Belvedere 23 Blackrock College 26, Anglesea Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win by 1-5 points
CLONTARF (2nd) v DOLPHIN (7th), Castle Avenue
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Clontarf: WWWWLWLLWW; Dolphin: LWLLLLWWWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Clontarf: Points: Richie Lane 94; Tries: Barry O’Mahony 5; Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 64; Tries: Eric Moloney 3
Preview: Second-placed Clontarf will be attempting to put the record straight after their shock 9-3 away defeat to Dolphin last month.
That was one of three successive away defeats which threatened Clontarf’s title challenge. But they have subsequently bounced back with two victories, including an away success over Shannon last Saturday.
So they appear to have put that bad run behind them. No one, it seems, is playing better than former Dolphin man Barry O’Mahony who scored two tries against Shannon.
‘Tarf captain O’Mahony and another ex-Dolphin player Sam Cronin will, however, know that absolutely nothing can be taken for granted against their former team-mates. Clontarf’s first priority must be to match their Cork rivals up front.
Most Recent League Meetings – Sunday, January 31, 2010: Dolphin 17 Clontarf 0, Musgrave Park; Saturday, January 7, 2012: Dolphin 9 Clontarf 3, Musgrave Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win by 6-10 points
LANSDOWNE (4th) v SHANNON (8th), Aviva Stadium back pitch, 2pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Lansdowne: LWWLWLWWWL; Shannon: WWWLDLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Lansdowne: Points: Craig Ronaldson 101; Tries: Matt Healy 5; Shannon: Points: Tadhg Bennett 41; Tries: Luke O’Dea 2
Preview: Despite their defeat to Cork Constitution, Lansdowne are still there or thereabouts in the title race, in fourth spot, six points adrift of leaders St. Mary’s.
They put up a decent show in Cork before going down 19-13 and will unquestionably go into the Shannon encounter as favourites. They have, after all, proved hugely impressive recently on the back pitch at the Aviva Stadium, scoring nine tries in demolishing Blackrock.
Shannon, on the other hand, are in a rut. They currently lie third last, just two points ahead off the second-from-bottom outfit Blackrock.
So, they will need to show a huge improvement if they are to get a much-needed win. But Lansdowne, on their home track, will hardly be in the mood to do them any favours.
Most Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 15, 2007: Lansdowne 19 Shannon 45, the RDS; Saturday, December 3, 2011: Shannon 16 Lansdowne 25, Coonagh
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win by 6-10 points
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (1st) v GARRYOWEN (6th), Templeville Road
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – St. Mary’s College: WLLWWWWWWW; Garryowen: LWLWLWWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Gavin Dunne 101; Tries: Matt D’Arcy 4; Garryowen: Points: Declan Cusack 54; Tries: Paul Neville 3
Preview: No one would surely bet against the league leaders St. Mary’s making it eight wins in-a-row. They are unquestionably the most impressive outfit around at the moment.
They are hoping to have their influential full-back Gavin Dunne back after missing the win over Old Belvedere. That would be a major boost, although Ray Crotty did a good job with the place-kicking duties in his absence.
There are very few weaknesses in the St. Mary’s side. They have a really strong pack, well-organised backs and an outstanding defence.
So, it is going to take some effort from Garryowen to beat them. That said, the Limerick team were not that far away when they lost 13-9 to their rivals in the opening game of the season at Dooradoyle.
Most Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 19, 2011: Garryowen 15 St. Mary’s College 39, Dooradoyle; Saturday, October 1, 2011: Garryowen 9 St. Mary’s College 13, Dooradoyle
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: St. Mary’s College to win by 6-10 points
YOUNG MUNSTER (3rd) v CORK CONSTITUTION (5th), Tom Clifford Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Young Munster: WLWWWWWLLW; Cork Constitution: WLWLWWLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Young Munster: Points: Willie Staunton 123; Tries: Matthew Costelloe, Mark Doyle 2 each; Cork Constitution: Points: Gerry Hurley 80; Tries: Niall O’Driscoll 5
Preview: Big match between the third and fifth-placed teams in the table. Third-placed Young Munster will be hoping to complete the double over their rivals, having travelled to Temple Hill to win 23-16.
Another defeat for Cork Constitution could spell the end of their title ambitions. So this has all the makings of a cracking encounter between two fierce rivals.
Young Munster showed in their victory over Blackrock last weekend that they are back on track. Apart from their big defeat to St. Mary’s, they are generally very good at Tom Clifford Park.
One suspects, however, that they will need to be at their best against a very motivated Cork Con side. The place-kicking of Willie Staunton (Young Munster) and Gerry Hurley (Cork Con) is going to be crucial.
Most Recent League Meetings – Sunday, April 17, 2011: Semi-final: Cork Constitution 19 Young Munster 9, Temple Hill; Saturday, December 3, 2011: Cork Constitution 16 Young Munster 23, Temple Hill
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cork Constitution to win by 1-5 points