The race for the title hots up for Division 1A leaders Clontarf host Dolphin, while second-placed Old Belvedere travel to Cork Constitution this weekend and the relegation battle gets more interesting by the week.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, March 1
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYNAHINCH (9th) v ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (8th), Ballymacarn Park
ABSOLUTELY vital for Ballynahinch to respond with a victory now that Garryowen have narrowed the gap at the bottom of the table to just two points.
But St Mary’s will not be in the mood to do them any favours. While they have a nine point cushion ahead of second from bottom Ballynahinch, a defeat here would undoubtedly complicate matters.
Fortunately, St Mary’s form has improved recently with an excellent victory over UCD. Once again, the goalkicking of Gavin Dunne is sure to be crucial.
When the sides met at Templeville Road earlier in the season, Dunne scored all of St Mary’s points in a 15-9 victory. But Ballynahinch are desparate for points and could well represent dangerous opponents if Stuart Morrow is provided with the right sort of ball in midfield.
CLONTARF (1st) v DOLPHIN (6th), Castle Avenue
LEADERS Clontarf simply cannot afford another slip up following their surprise home defeat to Cork Constitution.
It was a day when David Joyce, for once, was not on top form with his goalkicking. But the windy conditions made life very difficult and, to his credit, Joyce responded with an outstanding performance, contributing 18 points in Ireland’s 23-22 away victory over England in last weekend’s club international.
He is clearly going to be a key figure for Clontarf, as will wing Mick McGrath who also had a fine match in the club international. That said, Dolphin represent dangerous opposition.
They, after all, beat Cork Con in one of just two Division 1A matches which went ahead two weeks back.
The result meant that they had completed the double over their great rivals, an achievement which suggests that they are capable of providing Clontarf with a very stern test at Castle Avenue.
CORK CONSTITUTION (3rd) v OLD BELVEDERE (2nd), Temple Hill
YOU have to hand it to Old Belvedere, they keep producing the goods and now just trail leaders Clontarf on points difference.
Everything suggests that they are well capable of maintaining their challenge. Jack Conan’s star continues to rise following his try scoring Rabo Direct League debut for Leinster while Danny Riordan and Shaun Beirne are playing better than ever in the back division.
At the same time, coach Paul Cunningham will recognise that this game could represent a potential banana skin. He was at Castle Avenue to watch Cork Con beat Clontarf.
So, he knows they are quite capable of mixing it and in Gerry Hurley they have a potential matchwinner. Although their chances of catching the top two have surely gone following their defeat to Dolphin, Cork Con would like nothing better than to bounce back with a big performance against Old Belvedere.
UCD (7th) v GARRYOWEN (10th), Belfield
REMARKABLY, bottom side Garryowen are looking for their third victory on the trot following their impressive wins against Ballynahinch and Young Munster.
Without question the arrival of Eddie O’Sullivan to help out has reinvigorated the club. Their performance in beating Young Munster 33-16 saw them play some outstanding rugby in a bonus point success.
Now just to points adrift of Ballynahinch, they would appear to generating a good deal of momentum. UCD, by contrast, have lost their way to a great extent following their hugely impressive opening to the season.
It’s essential that they stop the rot quickly, so they will be right up for this game. If they can get enough of their top players on the park, then they have the ability out wide to cause any team problems.
YOUNG MUNSTER (5th) v LANSDOWNE (4th), Tom Clifford Park
LANSDOWNE have to win at Clifford Park to retain any outside hope of catching Clontarf and Old Belvedere at the top of the table.
They should be in with a good chance given Young Munster’s disappointing home effort when losing to Garryowen last time out. The Limerick club appear to be going through a tough patch at the moment.
But they still lie fifth in the table, just three points adrift of Lansdowne. Furthermore, they gave a decent account of themselves against the headquarters club earlier this season, only losing 29-22 on the back pitch at the Aviva Stadium.
Obviously, Brian Haugh, scorer of all of their 22 points on that day, will again be a key figure. Lansdowne, for their part, have several players who will represent a threat, none more so than centre Mark Roche, the scorer of a try in Ireland’s victory over England in the club international last weekend.