Grassroots rugby website. www.Knockon.ie, is a fantastic source of news and information on local rugby. This week they take a look at what is happening in rugby clubs all over Ireland.
The weekend in between the end of the Heineken Cup and the start of the Six Nations is invariably a busy one on the club rugby calendar and a brief glance at the fixtures for the coming days shows 2014 is no different.
A full programme of 26 Ulster Bank League games across the four divisions gets underway on Friday night in Dungannon where the home team host Malone in Division 1B and continues through a busy Saturday.
It does not end there as there are a further 51 games involving first XVs from clubs taking place throughout the four provinces, including eight second round Towns Cup games in Ulster, 13 first round Towns Cup games in Leinster and pivotal Junior League action in both Connacht and Munster.
Here is our guide to what is on around the country.
There are some crucial Junior League games across the three divisions in the province on Sunday afternoon, none more so than the top of the table clash at Corinthian Park where the league leaders host reigning champions Monivea.
Five points separate the the two sides with four games remaining after Sunday’s meeting. Monivea have rebuilt from within this season managing a changing of the guard so to speak.
The back row that started last weekend’s victory over Castlebar included two 19-year-olds (Darragh Maher and Cathal Laheen) and a 21 year old (Stephen Joyce).
The power and pace of Corinthians’ 2nds has been a bit much for most teams to handle this season and they are winning with a young panel, three of their starting line-up in last Sunday’s away win at Ballina were Under-19s.
They have lost only twice (to OLBC away and Connemara at home) and drawn once (Connemara away) and are seemingly on their way to a first Junior League title since 2009.
Other stand-out games in the province include an ever improving Connemara who are looking for three wins on the bounce against Ballina in Division 1A. The battle to avoid the bottom two is on the minds of Westport for their tie with OLBC and both Castlebar and Ballinasloe who meet in Mayo.
In Division 1B, the border derby between Ballyhaunis and Dunmore is key for both sides with the visitors in relegation trouble and the home side pushing for a promotion play-off position, while in Division 1C, unbeaten Ballinrobe host the students from NUIG at the Green in a key game in the promotion battle.
The Provincial Towns Cup, sponsored by Cleaning Contractors, kicks off this weekend and it is a long time since the competition has had so many genuine contenders.
Last season Tullamore were far too strong for the field on their way to a five-trophy clean sweep of titles, the year before Enniscorthy had the edge on every team but this year, there are no clear cut favourites.
All six Division 1A sides entering (Wanderers and Coolmine enter the Metro Cup) are certainly in with a strong shout with Dundalk the highest ranked but short on form, and Cill Dara the side coming in with the strongest form. Clondalkin, Enniscorthy, Newbridge and Tullow could be strong contenders also.
Others to consider include Division 1B leaders Ashbourne, last year’s runners-up Longford and Division 2A leaders Gorey. While Kilkenny, Wicklow, Roscrea and Naas 2nds are also in the conversation.
There are 13 ties this weekend with three teams (Co. Carlow, Enniscorthy and Rathdrum) receiving a bye into round 2.
The standout fixtures include 2012 runners-up Tullow at home to Division 2A promotion contenders North Kildare, Division 2B leaders New Ross against Newbridge (game to be played at Co. Carlow RFC) and the meeting of outsiders Longford and Kilkenny at CPL Park.
The draw for the second round will take place after the games on Sunday at the home of Ashbourne RFC after their game with 2012 quarter finalists Edenderry.
Keep an eye on Roscrea against Cill Dara and Athy against Dundalk as contenders for possible upsets, although the form guide could have a bearing on the eventual outcomes.
There is one game in the 98FM Metropolitan Cup as Greystones 2nds and Malahide meet in the first round, looking for a place in the last 16.
The Wicklow side have been competing in Division 1 of the Metro League and have found the going tough, while the north Dublin visitors are in the promotion shake-up in Division 1B of the Leinster League.
Junior League action dominates the menu in Munster this weekend as Kanturk will look to continue their march towards a first ever Division 1 title when they travel to Ballinakill in Waterford city to take on relegation-threatened Waterpark.
The clash of Newcastle West and Clonmel in the County Limerick town will be key in the race for All-Ireland Cup qualification as will the meeting of St. Mary’s and Tralee in Limerick city. The Grove Island-based home side are not out of the title race just yet either.
In Division 2, St. Senan’s seem set for a quick return to the top flight but face a tricky test away to Killarney on Sunday. The battle for the second promotion place in that division is an intense one with Kinsale, Thurles, Bandon and Clanwilliam all in contention.
The game of the weekend in Division 3 is the clash of Abbeyfeale and Dungarvan as both sides are very much to the fore in the promotion race. Ballincollig are also right in the mix and should win at home to Scariff.
The last 16 of the Powerade Towns Cup is where the focus will be in Ulster on Saturday. Four of the main contenders have been drawn against each other so this could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the competition.
All-Ireland Junior Cup finalists Clogher Valley have a very difficult test away to Ballyclare, the side that beat them 8-6 in an Ulster Junior Cup quarter-final at the same venue back in November, ending their bid to retain that title.
Since that defeat the Fivemiletown men have not lost and are in the driving seat for the Kukri Qualifying League crown after a win over Portadown last weekend.
The clash of an in-form Dromore and Junior Cup champions, Ballynahinch 2nds, is another standout tie from the second round this weekend. The home side are making a strong push for a place in the top four of the league over the past six weeks and will be hopeful of upsetting the odds.
Other big contenders include Ballymena 2nds who host UCC, Bangor who are away to Banbridge and Omagh who will take on Larne on Saturday. The clash of Donaghadee and Enniskillen could turn out to be the closest game of the weekend.
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