The title race enters the final furlong in Cheltenham week as Lansdowne hope to move one step closer to Ulster Bank League glory this weekend. Elsewhere there are big games for Shannon, Old Belvedere and UL Bohemians in the relegation zone.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, March 16
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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DOLPHIN (5th) v SHANNON (8th), Musgrave Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Dolphin: LWWWLLWLLLLWW; Shannon: LLLLLLLWLWLWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Dolphin: Points: Barry Keeshan 129; Tries: Harry Fleming, James Cronin 3 each; Shannon: Points: Rob Guerin 77; Tries: John Shine, James Loxton 4 each
Preview: A tough one for Shannon as they attempt to continue their impressive run which has seen them move from the bottom spot in the table up to third last ahead of UL Bohemians and Old Belvedere.
They deserve a lot of credit, most particularly for their 45-26 demolition of Cork Constitution, a match which saw them score six tries. But Dolphin at Musgrave Park represent a really difficult challenge.
Fourth-placed Young Munster, after all, went there last weekend for a refixed match and were soundly beaten 23-10. As usual Barry Keeshan was in top form with the boot, landing six out of seven goal-kicks.
That victory takes the pressure off Dolphin, moving them into the top half of the top half of the table. They are a very decent side that came close to beating leaders Lansdowne on their home patch and it will take a really big performance from Shannon if they are to win.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, April 21, 2012: Dolphin 3 Shannon 28, Musgrave Park; Saturday, October 27, 2012: Shannon 13 Dolphin 31, Coonagh
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Dolphin to win by 1-5 points
LANSDOWNE (1st) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (6th), Aviva Stadium back pitch, 4pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Lansdowne: WWWLWWLWWWWWW; St. Mary’s College: WLLLLWLWLWWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Lansdowne: Points: Craig Ronaldson 163; Tries: Cian Aherne 12; St. Mary’s College: Points: Gavin Dunne 96; Tries: Matthew D’Arcy 4
Preview: An intriguing match in prospect on the back pitch at the Aviva Stadium as Lansdowne try and make sure of the Division 1A title.
With a 14-point lead and only five games left, it is hard to to see them losing out. Even so, coach Mike Ruddock sensibly refuses to get ahead of himself, pointing out that that St. Mary’s and Clontarf, in particular, represent really tough challenges.
St. Mary’s have really been in a false position all season. And now that they have moved clear of any relegation worries, the defending champions would like nothing better than to put one over Lansdowne.
Certainly, they have the ammunition to cause Lansdowne problems with the finishing ability of Steve Toal-Lennon and Robbie Hudson and goal-kicking accuracy of Gavin Dunne.
But Lansdowne, of course, have match winners in abundance themselves with winger Cian Aherne and out-half Craig Ronaldson in great form at the moment.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 3, 2012: Lansdowne 22 St. Mary’s College 27, Aviva Stadium back pitch; Friday, October 26, 2012: St. Mary’s College 9 Lansdowne 29, Templeville Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win by 6-10 points
OLD BELVEDERE (9th) v GARRYOWEN (3rd), Anglesea Road
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Old Belvedere: LLLWWWLLLLLLL; Garryowen: WWWLWWWWLLLWL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Josh Glynn 77; Tries: Daniel Riordan 6; Garryowen: Points: Jamie Gavin 89; Tries: Conan Doyle 5
Preview: Something needs to happen very quickly for Old Belvedere. They have been in free-fall for some time and are now just two points ahead of UL Bohs at the bottom.
The form which saw them put 44 points on Cork Constitution last November seems a long way off. They have an outstanding full-back in Daniel Riordan and some excellent young players, but confidence is currently very low.
So, coach Andy Dunne has quite a job on his hands if he is to repeat last season’s effort which saw Old Belvedere avoid relegation with a great late run.
Garryowen, for their part, have lost their way a bit lately, dropping to third in the table. But the remain a decent side. Having already beaten Old Belvedere 34-15 at Dooradoyle, they will be very keen to complete the double.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 24, 2012: Garryowen 22 Old Belvedere 23, Dooradoyle; Saturday, October 27, 2012: Garryowen 34 Old Belvedere 15, Dooradoyle
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win by 6-10 points
UL BOHEMIANS (10th) v CLONTARF (2nd), Annacotty, 1pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – UL Bohemians: LWLWLLLLWLWLL; Clontarf: LLWWLWWLWLWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Ben Martin 54; Tries: Mossy Lawler 4; Clontarf: Points: Richie Lane 104; Tries: Michael McGrath 9
Preview: Lots at stake for both teams. Bottom side UL Bohemians simply must get an overdue victory if they are to have any chance of moving clear of relegation trouble.
Unfortunately, they face one of the league’s form teams in Clontarf. The north Dubliners’ winning run has seen them move into second spot in the table behind runaway leaders Lansdowne.
While it is highly unlikely that Lansdowne could possibly blow such a big advantage, Clontarf must keep going in the hope that the situation changes. There’s also the fact that they still have to play Lansdowne.
But first things first and that means getting the better of UL Bohs. Clontarf appear to be in great shape just now, with Simon Crawford especially good, and they already have a 35-10 home victory over UL Bohs to their credit this season.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 26, 2011: Clontarf 15 UL Bohemians 20, Castle Avenue; Saturday, October 27, 2012: Clontarf 35 UL Bohemians 10, Castle Avenue
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win by 1-5 points
YOUNG MUNSTER (4th) v CORK CONSTITUTION (7th), Tom Clifford Park, 1.30pm
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Young Munster: WWLLWLWWWWLLL; Cork Constitution: WLWWWLWLWWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Young Munster: Points: Brian Haugh 101; Tries: Darragh O’Neill 5; Cork Constitution: Points: Johnny Holland 92; Tries: Gerry Hurley 4
Preview: Two teams having a tough time of it at the moment. Young Munster have seen their title aspirations disappear with a run of three successive defeats.
The latest reversal, a 23-10 loss away to Dolphin last weekend, makes their position in fourth spot in the table look very vulnerable.
Player-coach Mike Prendergast faces a big task in getting them refocused. But the same applies to the Cork Constitution boss Brian Walsh.
Unusually, Cork Con have been conceding some huge totals lately, most notably when they were beaten 45-26 by Shannon.
The problem, it seems, for both teams is squad strength in depth. Still, this is always a very competitive game, as demonstrated when Cork Con won the first fixture between the teams 21-20 with a dramatic late score at Temple Hill.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 4, 2012: Young Munster 9 Cork Constitution 7, Tom Clifford Park; Saturday, October 27, 2012: Cork Constitution 21 Young Munster 20, Temple Hill
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Young Munster to win by 1-5 points