The title race in Division 1A could go right down to the wire. Current leaders Old Belvedere are three points clear, but Clontarf have a game in hand. There is a big weekend ahead.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Saturday, March 22
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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BALLYNAHINCH (9th) v YOUNG MUNSTER (6th), Ballymacarn Park
A ‘must win’ game for Ballynahinch as they fight to stay ahead of Garryowen in the battle to avoid automatic relegation.
Following Garryowen’s recent good run, Ballynahinch are now only ahead of their rivals on points difference. So, it is absolutely vital they secure an overdue win against Young Munster.
At least they came away with a try scoring bonus point in their 41-26 away defeat to Lansdowne last weekend. Former Ballymena player Rodger McBurney impressed in scoring two tries.
Young Munster’s mixed season continued with their 34-12 away defeat by Old Belvedere. But they do have a very competitive pack, a quality number 8 in Sean Rennison and a proven goal-kicker in Brian Haugh.
GARRYOWEN (10th) v CLONTARF (2nd), Dooradoyle
An intriguing fixture between a side struggling to avoid relegation and a team bidding to capture the title.
The only thing title challengers Clontarf can be sure about is they will find matters a good deal more difficult than their home fixture against Garryowen.
On that occasion, early in the season, they strolled to a 33-3 victory. Garryowen were competitive for the first 15 minutes but then fell apart.
Things subsequently, of course, went from bad to worse before the arrival of Eddie O’Sullivan helped to change Garryowen’s fortunes.
Three wins in their last four games has moved them level on 17 points with Ballynahinch and in with a real chance of avoid automatic relegation.
Clontarf, however, represent easily their toughest task to date. The Castle Avenue club, who now trail Old Belvedere by four points with a game in hand, will be desperate to come away from Dooradoyle with the best possible result.
They have considerable firepower with a formidable pack and two wingers in Michael McGrath and Max McFarland who appear to be on fire just now.
LANSDOWNE (3rd) v CORK CONSTITUTION (4th), Aviva Stadium main pitch, 2pm
Although the top two teams are now well out of reach, third-placed Lansdowne will be keen to finish the season on a high.
That means hopefully holding on to third position. In order to do so, Lansdowne will surely have to account for a Cork Constitution side that gave them a bit of a hammering early on in the season at Temple Hill.
Cork Con scored five tries, two of them coming from back rower James Ryan, in a 33-16 success. But Lansdowne are a much better team now with a very potent backs division.
Winger Cian Aherne demonstrated that he is right back to his best form when scoring two tries in the demolition of Ballynahinch last Saturday.
Cork Con have lost three in a row, but the fact that they upset Clontarf on their last visit to Dublin should serve as a warning to Lansdowne.
OLD BELVEDERE (1st) v UCD (5th), Anglesea Road
Leaders Old Belvedere are certain to find themselves in a real battle against the only team to have beaten them in the current campaign.
UCD achieved that back in October when they won 33-26 at Belfield. At the time, the students were riding high with all of their top players available.
It was the goal-kicking of James Thornton that got them home, as Old Belvedere outscored them by three tries to two.
Since then Old Belvedere have hardly put a foot wrong, their 34-12 bonus point victory over Young Munster last weekend moving them four points clear at the top.
It was a remarkable effort, given that they had to play most of the second half with 14 men after young back rower Jack Conan was sent off.
But UCD are also in excellent form just now, having beaten Dolphin 55-32 with their flying winger Barry Daly getting a hat-trick of tries.
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (7th) v DOLPHIN (8th), Templeville Road
Not, it seems, a huge amount at stake at Templeville Road, although both clubs will be conscious that they must stay clear of Ballynahinch and Garryowen.
As things stand, St. Mary’s and Dolphin are 10 points clear of the bottom two with a game in hand. St. Mary’s form has been quite decent lately, despite last Saturday’s 25-6 loss to title-chasing Clontarf.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Dolphin who have conceded as astonishing 114 points in their last two games, losing 59-7 to Clontarf and 55-32 to UCD.
Obviously, they are going to have to make a huge improvement.
But they are capable of much better as was demonstrated by their victory over Cork Con three games back. What is more, they did beat St. Mary’s 15-10 at Musgrave Park with Darren Sweetnam getting the all-important try.