The final weekend of Ulster Bank League action before the Christmas break. Can Division 1A leaders Clontarf stay ahead of the chasing pack when they visit Ballynahinch? Or will former champions Old Belvedere take top spot at home to Garryowen?
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, December 7
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYNAHINCH (9th) v CLONTARF (1st), Ballymacarn Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Ballynahinch: LLLLLWL; Clontarf: LWWWWWW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Ballynahinch: Points: Richie Lobb 40; Tries: Aaron Ferris, Ross Adair 2 each; Clontarf: Points: David Joyce 98; Tries: Michael McGrath 7
Preview: Leaders Clontarf will be looking to make it seven wins on the trot when they face second-from-bottom Ballynahinch at Ballymacarn Park.
It will be a major surprise if they slip up, although Ballynahinch usually tend to be pretty competitive on their home track. Their last home match saw them beat Garryowen 18-6 a few weeks back.
But Clontarf, of course, are a very different proposition to Garryowen on current form. They scored no fewer than six tries in last Saturday’s 46-28 victory over Young Munster with three of them coming from right winger Michael McGrath.
McGrath has been in brilliant form all season, scoring seven league tries to date. But the starting point in Clontarf’s good run has been the work of the pack, while out-half David Joyce continues to knock over a high percentage of his shots at goal.
Recent League Meetings – N/A
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Clontarf to win by 6-10 points
LANSDOWNE (4th) v DOLPHIN (6th), Aviva Stadium back pitch
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Lansdowne: LLWWWLW; Dolphin: WWLLWLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Lansdowne: Points: Scott Deasy 47; Tries: Cian Aherne 4; Dolphin: Points: Rory Scannell 46; Tries: Cian Bohane 3
Preview: Lansdowne have now won four out of their last five to move up to fourth spot in the table. So, while they may not be as strong as last season’s title winning outfit, they are still reasonably good.
The inclusion of Jack O’Connell against Garryowen last weekend clearly made a difference with the Leinster prop scoring two of their six tries. But it is difficult to gauge the value of that performance given Garryowen’s continuing problems.
Dolphin, currently lying in sixth spot, will provide difficult opposition. They have a useful team with young Rory Scannell playing a major role.
Cian Bohane also impressed in the most recent 25-18 victory over Ballynahinch. That said, the involvement of players in the British & Irish Cup could, of course, impact on both teams.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 5, 2013: Lansdowne 37 Dolphin 7, Aviva Stadium back pitch; Saturday, February 2, 2013: Dolphin 25 Lansdowne 27, Musgrave Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Lansdowne to win by 1-5 points
OLD BELVEDERE (2nd) v GARRYOWEN (10th), Anglesea Road
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Old Belvedere: WLDWWWW; Garryowen: LLLLLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Steve Crosbie, Daniel Riordan 25 each; Tries: Daniel Riordan 5; Garryowen: Points: Jamie Gavin 31; Tries: Harry McNulty 2
Preview: Interesting day for Old Belvedere head coach Paul Cunningham as Garryowen, the team he was formerly in charge of, visit Anglesea Road.
Since Cunningham’s arrival at Old Belvedere, the club has made real strides. Just one defeat in seven matches means that they lie second in the table, only a point behind leaders Clontarf.
Compare that with Garryowen who currently lie bottom, without a victory to their name. Clearly, they are going to have to get a result very soon if they are to have any chance of turning things around.
That is going to extremely difficult against an Old Belvedere side brimming with confidence just now. But a potential problem is the loss of some key players because of the British & Irish Cup, most notably their outstanding back rower Jack Conan.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 27, 2012: Garryowen 34 Old Belvedere 15, Dooradoyle; Saturday, March 16, 2013: Old Belvedere 15 Garryowen 12, Anglesea Road
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win by 6-10 points
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (8th) v CORK CONSTITUTION (7th), Templeville Road
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – St. Mary’s College: LLWLLWL; Cork Constitution: WWDWLLL
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – St. Mary’s College: Points: Gavin Dunne 32; Tries: Cathal Marsh, Mark Sexton, Chris Lilly, Gareth Austen, Robbie Hudson 2 each; Cork Constitution: Points: Johnny Holland 35; Tries: James Ryan 3
Preview: Two teams that could do with a victory – St. Mary’s especially so, as they are third from bottom, with only two wins to their credit.
Cork Constitution, for their part, have gone into freefall after such a promising opening to their campaign. They have now lost three in a row to be fourth last, five points ahead of St. Mary’s.
Importantly though, both teams are capable of more. St. Mary’s did beat UCD away before narrowly losing 27-24 at home to Old Belvedere last Saturday.
Cork Con were well in the game against UCD until a brilliant Andrew Boyle try swung the game in favour of the students.
It promises to be close encounter with the goal-kicking of Gavin Dunne of St. Mary’s and Cork Con’s Johnny Holland, presuming that he is available, proving crucial.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 26, 2013: St. Mary’s College 13 Cork Constitution 22, Templeville Road; Saturday, February 16, 2013: Cork Constitution 12 St. Mary’s College 30, Temple Hill
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cork Constitution to win by 1-5 points
YOUNG MUNSTER (5th) v UCD (3rd), Tom Clifford Park
Ulster Bank League Season’s Form – Young Munster: WWLLWWL; UCD: WWWWLLW
Ulster Bank League Top Scorers – Young Munster: Points: Brian Haugh 66; Tries: Derry O’Connor 6; UCD: Points: James Thornton 59; Tries: Andrew Boyle 3
Preview: This is going to be a huge test for a UCD team that is certain to be badly understrength because of the involvement of so many of their players in the Leinster ‘A’ side facing Cross Keys in the British & Irish Cup.
Full-back Andrew Boyle, winger Sam Coghlan Murray and flanker Dan Leavy are just three of many key performers expected to be missing. Leavy was inspirational in last Saturday’s 23-17 victory over Cork Con.
To further complicate matters, UCD’s other outstanding back row player Conor Gilsenan has been on the injury list lately. Importantly though, they will have out-half James Thornton, scorer of 18 points against Cork Con.
They will need him as Young Munster have proved very competitive this season, winning four out of their seven games. What is more, they are normally at their most competitive at Tom Clifford Park.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, April 18, 2009: UCD 14 Young Munster 17, Belfield
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Young Munster to win by 1-5 points