The Ulster Bank League is back and what better way to kick off the second half of the season than the all dublin derby between leaders Clontarf and defending champions Lansdowne?
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, January 4
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Clontarf (1st) v Lansdowne (3rd), Castle Avenue
BY some distance the match of the day. Leaders Clontarf have been terrific to date, winning their last seven. They will come up against a Lansdowne team which has made a marvellous recovery after a poor start to the league.
Their 61-11 win over an admittedly understrength Dolphin has moved them up to third in the table, eight points adrift of Clontarf.
While they may not have the strength in depth of last season, they are clearly still pretty strong. Eight tries against Dolphin is testament to that.
Clontarf though are going to be extremely hard to beat on their home patch. They will again be looking to the strength of the pack and the finishing ability of wing Michael McGrath as they bid to take revenge for two defeats against Lansdowne in last season’s campaign.
Cork Constitution (6th) v Young Munster (5th), Temple Hill
JUST two points separates these mid-table sides with Young Munster staying ahead of their rivals by victure of their 22-16 victory over UCD.
Although the students were were much understrength that was an important victory for Young Munster. Once again, Brian Haugh showed his value to the team by contributing 17 points with the boot.
Importantly, Cork Con returned to winning form by beating St Mary’s 22-18 away. Given that they were 15-3 down at one stage, the result reflected well on the character within the side.
Two of their try scorers on that occasion, James Ryan and Gerry Hurley, will be important figures again. Young Munster’s record of winning five out of their eight games shows that they are a decent well organised side but they can ill afford injuries as their depth within their squad is not great.
Dolphin (7th) v Old Belvedere (2nd), Musgrave Park
NO one should be foolish enough to write off Dolphin’s chances against second placed Old Belvedere just because they conceded 61 points against Lansdowne.
They were badly understrength for that game and are generally a much better side on their home track. Presuming that they have their front line players back, they will provide Old Belvedere with a real test.
Old Belvedere have surprised many, apart from themselves, with their outstanding performance to date which has seen them lose just one game. They currently lie just a point behind leaders Clontarf.
Coach Paul Cunningham has them playing a really good brand of rugby with full-back and skipper Daniel Riordan a hugely important figure.
This is another big test for his team against a Dolphin side that will surely be desperately keen to put that Lansdowne result behind them.
Garryowen (10th) v St Mary’s College (8th), Dooradoyle
WHO would have believed that Garryowen would live eight points adrift at the bottom without a win in their opening eight games?
Their latest defeat saw them go down 15-5 to Old Belvedere. Yet, they played well for long stages in that game and could have been well way clear at half-time if they had taken their chances.
They will need to display the same sort of spirit shown at Anglesea Road if they are to have any chance of moving up the table. Their first priority must be to make better use of their opportunities.
St Mary’s will clearly be in no mood to do them any favours as they are struggling themsleves, lying third from bottom with just two victories. They blew a winning position against Cork Con last time out and cannot afford another slip-up.
UCD (4th) v Ballynahinch (9th), Belfield
UCD will be hoping to bounce back following after their much understrength side went down 22-16 away to Young Munster.
Presumably, they will have a much stronger team in action against Ballynahinch which could prove bad news for the Ulster outfit. But the students will definitely not underestime their opponents.
Ballynahinch did, after all, finish ahead of them at the top of Division 1B last season. Furthermore, they have performed much better in the top division than their current position of second from bottom would indicate.
Last time out, for example, they gave leaders Clontarf plenty of problems at Ballymacarn Park before eventually going under 16-12. Both teams favour an open approach, so this should be a game worth watching.